Chef Fritz Blank Victus Populi collection
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Chef Fritz Blank (1942 August 25 – 2014 September 9) was a prominent chef, restaurateur, and gastronome during the beginnings of Philadelphia's second-wave restaurant renaissance in the 1980s. Born Frederick Carl Blank Jr. in Pennsauken, New Jersey, Blank was nicknamed "Fritz" by the same German grandmother who first piqued his interest in cooking and began to teach him the skills that would eventually form the basis of his passion for every aspect of food and cooking.
Prior to becoming a chef, Blank studied and worked as a scientist, earning degrees in dairy husbandry, dairy science, medical technology, and clinical microbiology and then working as an analytical chemist for the USDA, a Clinical Laboratory Officer for the US Army Medical Service Corps, Associate Microbiologist at the Wilmington Medical Center, and Chief Microbiologist at Crozer-Chester Medical and Regional Burn Center. Amongst his scientific accomplishments, the best known is his contribution, made at the age of 32, to the discovery of the pathogen that causes Legionnaire's Disease. He also contributed to the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery in England and the International Workshop on Molecular and Physical Gastronomy in Italy.
In 1979, inspired by a series of dinners based on the 1969 book entitled Great Dinners from Life, Blank opened his renowned French restaurant, Deux Cheminées, on South Camac Street in Philadelphia, but in 1987 the original location was destroyed by a fire. Deux Cheminées then moved to 1221 Locust Street, the former site of the Princeton Club of Philadelphia and the current location of Vedge, a popular vegan restaurant. The upper floors of 1221 Locust Street became a home to both Blank and his vast culinary library, which eventually totaled over fifteen thousand volumes spanning a wide array of formats and areas of interest.
Upon closing Deux Cheminées and retiring in 2007, Blank relocated to Thailand where, after several years of struggling with Alzheimer's, he passed away in 2014.
The Chef Fritz Blank Victus Populi collection comprises over 3,000 recipe booklets, pamphlets, and cookbooks but constitutes only a small subset of Chef Fritz Blank's enormous cookbook library that was set apart by its focus on the American consumer and home cook. Blank titled the collection Victus Populi (Latin for "Food of the People") because he saw these pamphlets as one of the best sources of historical information about purchasing, cooking, and consumption habits of the American public in the 20th century.
In Blank's own words: "I use Victus Populi all the time. Corporate history, advertising history, regional dishes, failed products, the enduring favorites: these booklets have it all, and together they reveal a heritage of American cooking often better than any cookbook can. Most of their recipes smack of homemade goodness and translate well into contemporary kitchens of the third millennium. After all, would a peanut butter manufacturer publish recipes for peanut butter cookies that taste awful or are hard to make?" (University of Pennsylvania Library Trustees, Van Pelt Library, Exhibits, A Chef & His Library: Victus Populi, 2002.)
The bulk of the collection is composed of American cookery pamphlets from the 20th century, although it also includes materials from Canada as well as a very small number of items from other countries, such as the UK and France. Many of the items appear to be promotional items or product premiums, often produced using relatively inexpensive materials and, as evidenced by extensive wear-and-tear and the occasional spatter, heavily used in household kitchens.
This collection is categorized roughly into ten series: I. Appliances (boxes 1-9 and 78-80), II. Desserts (boxes 10-18 and 81-82), III. Drinks (boxes 18-20 and 82), IV. Geographical (boxes 20-28 and 82), V. Ingredients (boxes 29-53 and 82), VI. Methods (boxes 53-60), VII. Occasions and Seasonal (boxes 60-64), VIII. Organizations and companies (boxes 65-69), IX. Specific Dishes (boxes 69-74), and X. Other (boxes 74-78). Each series contains between three and fifteen subseries, with several subseries being further subdivided into smaller, more manageable categories. For more information on the contents of these series, please consult the notes to each individual series.
Due to the nature of cookery pamphlets and cookbooks, it is impossible to achieve a perfect categorization scheme. As such, the materials in this collection have been broadly categorized into series with a considerable amount of overlap. Researchers will find similar and overlapping recipes in both yeast and bread; in baking and Betty Crocker and specific flour producers; and in dairy and fats. Similar situations exist throughout the collection and some are not intuitive. For example, researchers will find gelatin recipes in both Knox Gelatin and Health categories; sugars in both Sweeteners and Wartime Cookery categories; and treats in both Coffee and Desserts categories. These examples are only a few of many possibilities; thus, a broad and varied keyword search is recommended for those seeking specific information.
In the case of multiple versions of the same item, researchers may wish to consult all copies of that item, including those located in different boxes or series, as some materials include markings made either by the collector or by those who used the materials before him (often, the origin of the markings is unclear as to authorship or date).
Gift of Chef Fritz Blank.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Molly B. Hutt
- Finding Aid Date
- 2015 June 19
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.