Cool Culinaria utilizes wide-format-print technologies to produce its collection of vintage menus and cocktail art.
In the late 19th century, dining out became the new “in.” The Second Industrial Revolution was spurring unprecedented economic growth for companies and individuals, and the rise in travel due to new railways and steamships helped create a higher demand for restaurants throughout America and Europe.
The competition between local restaurants, mixed with the affordability and refinement of the printing process, led to an influx of funky and colorful menus that played off the resto’s character. Images such as a woman riding a lobster or a cockroach in a top hat became typical menu cover art of the era.
Skip ahead in time to mid-2012 when three menu collectors, Charles Baum, Eugen Beer, and Barbara McMahon, decided to create Cool Culinaria (coolculinaria.com) to showcase their collection of vintage menus and cocktail art as reprinted posters. The idea stemmed from their discovery of a large collection of airline menus at Northwestern University a year earlier. The team now works with many universities, libraries, and private collectors to garner menus from restaurants, bars and saloons, cafes, diners, drive-ins, nightclubs, and hotels around the world.
Copyright for Cool Culinaria isn’t an issue, says Baum, one of the firm’s co-founders: “Ninety-nine percent or more of the menus come from establishments that have long since closed down or changed hands so many times that ownership has been lost in the mists of time. Also, many of the restaurants encouraged their customers to take or send the menus to friends as a form of marketing exercise, so they ended up in the public domain.”
In order to bring these menus back to life, Cool Culinaria has the cover and inside art photographed (and scanned if over 12 x 17 inches) at a medical-imaging and archiving resource. If the originals are smaller than 12 x 17, the company executes the scanning in-house on a Microtek scanner.
Cool Culinaria only cleans up the menus slightly. “We want them to show some of their age because, to us, that’s part of the charm,” says Baum. “Obvious things like coffee or gravy stains are removed and significant creases that interfere with the aesthetic of the artwork.”
After “a long Goldilocks-like hunt for the right paper” output partner Gotham Imaging (gothamimaging.com) found the media that was “just right” – LexJet Sunset Velvet Rag 315g. Gotham then uses its Epson Stylus Pro 9900 printer with Ultrachrome HDR inks to output larger posters up to 44 inches wide; its Epson Stylus Pro 3880 is used for smaller, 13 x 19-inch prints.
The reprints are then sold on Cool Culinaria’s website where visitors can find pieces from the 1900s to the 1970s, from restaurants in locales ranging from Las Vegas to France.
Cool Culinaria also recreates the retro dining experience via DTG tees and aprons, as well as dish and tea towels and some larger-format wallcoverings.
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