The lavish menu comprises an engraved card tatted on a satin backing. For this banquet, they were made in various colors, each with a matching silk bow. Although it is not unusual for old menus to have small stains left by drips of gravy and other mishaps from when they were used, the splash marks on this one are particularly bad, making its survival all the more improbable. And yet, despite these flaws, this menu has been preserved for more than 130 years. By Spencerian logic, its continued existence is prima facie evidence of its superiority.
1. Delmonico’s would have charged about $2,400 for this banquet. Friends and colleagues who organized this event recouped some of this expense by selling tickets for $12 each, not an insignificant amount given that eminent professors then earned about $250 per month. The organizers bore some of the expenses themselves, such as the expensive menus that were probably made by the stationer and printer Borden & Cain at 46 West Broadway. Speakers were given tickets in consideration of their services.
2. Barry Werth, Banquet at Delmonico’s: Great Minds, the Gilded Age and the Triumph of Evolution in America, New York, 2009.