Located in the New York Public Library is a rare collection of menus, some 40,000 strong by recent estimates. The largest part of this collection, approximately 26,000, was collected by one person, Miss Frank E. Buttolph of Manhattan, New York. Miss Buttolph dedicated the last chapter of her life gathering this vast and unique collection in the hopes of educating future generations. A quote from the Library Journal of the American Library Association April 1900 states: “Another gift offered at the February meeting of the board, on which action was deferred, is a collection of 1000 menus, each from a different hotel or restaurant, collected by Miss F. E. Buttles. These were offered to the library on condition that they are to be sealed and to remain so until one-half of the next century is over, as it is the giver’s desire that the coming generations may see what there ancestors ate.”
It should be noted that Miss Buttolph created this collection entirely as a volunteer. Known as the Buttolph Collection primarily, the menu collection continued to grow after Frank’s death in 1924, with contributions still being made to this day.
Over the past 10 years the Buttolph and the entire menu collection has received much attention, a large portion of the collection being digitized and made available for public viewing on the internet. The New York Public Library also has new projects going on involving the collections, one called “What’s on the Menu?” If you do a search for Buttolph on the Web you will find many blogs and stories attributed to the Buttolph collection with the commonly used phrase “a mysterious and passionate figure, whose mission in life was to collect menus.” This is where this blog will differ from all others by answering the nagging question of who was Miss Frank E. Buttolph, not just a riddle but the story of an amazing and curious women that left a legacy for all of us to enjoy and marvel over.
The Two Franks
For the past 10 years I’ve been working on a historical project that I called the “Class of 1866.” I’ve been attempting to compile the biographies of the first 15 graduates of what was then known as Mansfield State Normal School. Mansfield being the third Normal School to open its doors in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1857 owing to a tragedy by fire after the first semester of classes was completed the school would not graduate its first class till the summer of 1866. One of the first 15 was named Miss Frank E. Buttles, from the town of Mansfield. While trudging through many not digitized newspapers, microfilms, school journals, one article would stand out and open the door of significant discovery, well worth being explored and shared. Posted in the Normal Quarterly a journal of MSNS dated May 1913 a letter entitled “An Old Friend Speaks”. The letter reads:
“A letter of unusual interest has been received from Miss Frank E. Buttolph, of 476 Fifth Ave., N.Y., a member of the Class of 1866, the first class to be graduated, where the name was spelled “Buttles.”
She speaks with enthusiasm of her early enjoyment of the Mansfield hills, especially of botanical researches among them.
Miss Buttolph has an enthusiastic interest in language, an enthusiasm which had its beginnings in Mansfield. Italian is her latest acquisition and special delight. She is now translating Tasso’s”Gerusalemme Liberata” into metrical prose.
Miss Buttolph is widely acquainted in New York and says: “ There is not a day when I hear English alone. Having but one language at command would seem to me like having but one dress for every occasion.”
She is also a “born collector” and one of her collections—a very unique one—consists of 26’000 menu cards gathered from all quarters of the globe and commemorating many notable occasions. They are now housed for permanent exhibition in the new Astor Library, New York city—a testimony to their historical and artistic value.”
This letter took me to the last chapter of Frank’s life. In this blog I’ll share the first three chapters of an interesting journey of a very unique individual. To start the journey Frank, as she is called through most of her life, was born in Mansfield, Pennsylvania on November 9, 1844, Frances Editha Buttles the daughter of Reuben Parmenter and Amanda Graves Buttles.
The first tangible record of Frank with the exception of the Buttles, Graves’s family bible was to be found in the 1850 census record of Richmond Township in Tioga County, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, enumerated on the September 19th.
The record reads as:
Age Occupation Born
R.P. Buttles 34 M Wagon Maker Ny
Amanda Buttles 35 F Ny
Frances Buttles 5 F Pa
Permelia Buttles 1 F Pa
The record also indicates that Frank attended school during this year. At the time of the census she would have been just shy of her 6th birthday. I should mention that at this time that the then small village of what was called Mansfield would not become and official Borough for another seven years. There was no village newspaper at this time to record marriages or births or other local mélange. The closest news was published at the county seat of Wellsboro in the Tioga Agitator which only carried little mention of Mansfield at that time. The photo is of the white school house as it was known. Built in the mid 1830’s, it would be used until the coming of the Mansfield Classical Seminary which would open it’s doors on January 7th 1857.
This was Frank’s first school.