Man sells Chinese takeout menus to university for $40,000

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Man sells Chinese takeout menus to university for $40,000

An American man, who spent more than 30 years collecting Chinese takeout menus and other Chinese food artifacts from just about everywhere except China, recently sold his collection. The University of Toronto – Scarborough bought the collection for $40,000. That may sound like a lot for menus that are usually given out for free, but the University says the unique collection provides an invaluable glimpse into the evolution of Chinese food – especially in North America.

CGTN’s Karina Huber went to Toronto to find out more.

Man sells Chinese takeout menus to university for $40,000

Man sells Chinese takeout menus to university for $40,000

An American man, who spent more than 30 years collecting Chinese takeout menus and other Chinese food artifacts from just about everywhere except China, recently sold his collection. The University of Toronto – Scarborough bought the collection for $40,000. That may sound like a lot for menus that are usually given out for free, but the University says the unique collection provides an invaluable glimpse into the evolution of Chinese food – especially in North America. CGTN’s Karina Huber went to Toronto to find out more.
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Most of the menus are from restaurants in the United States and Canada, but some are from other countries. They span from 1896 to last year.

There are also food artifacts like small woks, soup spoons and puzzles.

The whole collection was assembled by an avid collector in New York City who calls himself the “Inspector Collector.”

The collector, Harley Spiller, said, “Chinese menus changed my life. It opened my world. I met new people. I have gone in pursuit of the hobby to Shanghai and Canton and Hong Kong and eaten like the dickens.”

They also made him richer. The University of Toronto, Scarborough recently bought the collection for $40,000.

Daniel Bender, Director of the school’s Culinary Research Center, says it was a small price to pay for what could provide a wealth of knowledge. He thinks we can learn a lot about the lives of Chinese migrants from the menus.

“How were they making their livings? How were they presenting their own culture in their new homes? How were they relating to their old homes? What flavors were they trying to preserve? What flavors were they trying to take on?” were all questions Bender asked.

Bender says with these artifacts, scholars will have the ingredients to do more research.

The University has taken the collection of 10,000 objects and digitized them so that they will be available, not only to scholars, but anyone interested in learning about the history of Chinese American cuisine.

The University’s chief librarian says digitizing the items for public consumption is no easy task.

“So the challenge is the copyright because these menus are a creation that somebody made and we have to make sure we have the permission to make use of them,” said Victoria Owen, Chief Librarian at the University.

They first need to date the menus, which can be tricky, and then try and contact the owners.

Bender says the efforts will be rewarded.

“We’re going to be getting a whole new understanding of Chinese food – more than we’ve ever had before.”