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Food for Thought
Mogen Dovid Delicatessen Journals
Working in a research library has its advantages. I've met lots of interesting people, encountered fascinating objects serendipitously, and wandered around the deep crevices of a landmark building.
But an unusual condition can occur when you've worked in a library for a long time. You run the risk of becoming jaded.
First Folio of Shakespeare? Been there, done that.
Gutenberg Bible? Please. I walk by it every day.
But when you do stumble upon something new -- something exciting and revelatory and unexpected -- you have a tendency to appreciate it all the more.
Such as delicatessen trade journals.
I was introduced to these periodicals by Roberta Saltzman, the librarian in the Dorot Jewish Division, who has cultivated a world-class collection of Jewish cookery materials. Among the fascinating items in her collection is the Mogen Dovid Delicatessen Magazine, published in New York from 1930 until 1939.
Firmly union ("Live and Let Live" and "In Union there is Strength" are prominently featured on each issue), and printed in both English and Yiddish, Mogen Dovid covers the world of New York delicatessen culture and features articles related to racketeering, Brooklyn elections, trade overhead and union matters.
One of the most interesting parts of each issue is their Fair Price List which lists "at which the following food should be sold in all delicatessen stores." The March, 1931 issue, for example, proposes that roast chicken (depending on its size) should cost between $1.50 and $2.50; the Temptation Sandwich (tongue, sliced tomato, and India relish) should cost 30 cents; cream cheese and olive sandwich, 20 cents, and a sardine sandwich, 15 cents.
And needless to say the ads are priceless. From Dr. Dick's True Fruit Drinks to Dr. Brown's Celery Tonic (when did it start being called Cel-ray?), these periodicals document local purveyors, distributors, and restaurants that have all but disappeared from view. With the exception of old business directories, these publications are some of the only reminders we have left of these institutions.
So while David Sax writes about the demise of the physical deli in his book Save the Deli, at least he can be reassured that we've saved the deli periodicals.