Perhaps the most celebrated cocktail book ever is that by “Professor Jerry Thomas, Formerly Principal Bartender at the Metropolitan Hotel, New York and at the Planters’ house, St. Louis.” Published in 1862, this compendium and guide to “social drinks” contains, quoting its author, “eighty-six different kinds of punches, together with a universe of cobblers, juleps, bitters, cups, slings, shrubs, etc.” and was for many years the authority on all things mixological.
Thomas (1830-1885) called his book The Bar-tender’s Guide for its first two editions, only later retitling it The Bon Vivant’s Companion, and it remained in print with that name until the early 1890s. For many years thereafter, the book disappeared from sight, no doubt a consequence of the temperance movement and, later, Prohibition.
However, in 1928, the journalist Herbert Asbury (already famous for his crime reporting, including the sensational Gangs of New York) brought Jerry Thomas and his book back into the public eye, republishing it with a magnificent thirty-one page introduction and punctuating the text with twenty-five engravings from publications such as The Sporting Times and Stetson’s Dime Illustrated.
The reprint was handsomely published by Alfred A. Knopf on a heavy off-white paper, and it quickly won a host of admirers. Bold and forthright, even as Prohibition continued, it celebrates sociability and extravagance on both sides of the bar. Asbury’s account of “Professor” Thomas’ life and times is filled with grand anecdotes and tantalizing glimpses of the world just a step or two on the wrong side of the law.
This is a quite scarce book, with very few copies changing hands. The original nineteenth-century Jerry Thomas volumes command a thousand dollars and up, and Asbury’s reintroduction of Thomas tend to be costly as well.
While lacking the fragile and extremely rare dust jacket, our copy is a seldom-seen Very Good-plus—fresh looking interior with a clean case, no edgewear, and a sturdy binding. The spine is darkened from shelf exposure. It is a fourth printing, which merits a comment. This book far exceeded its publisher’s expectations, and achieved its fourth printing within two months of its October 1928 publication date.