Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Virginia Mericle Menu Collection

Collection ID:
Mericle, Virginia
1960 - 1999
Collection is in
. Some menus are in
Physical Description:
10 Cubic feet
Over four thousand menus from American and international restaurants documenting the marketing and sale of food outside of the home to consumers around the world.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The collection consists primarily of American menus but also includes international ones, primarily European (Britain, Austria, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, etc.). These menus are from a variety of restaurant types – those associated with hotels, those owned by individuals, and those that were part of small or large chains. Collected from the mid-1960s through the mid-1990s, the menus document the rise of restaurant chains, as well as franchises during this period. Since many of the menus were never opened they can be easily dated either by the postmark on the envelope, correspondence included with them, or the dates printed on the actual items. There are more menus from moderate or low priced restaurants than from high-end ones, providing insight into the average American's dining experience.
Evidently Mrs. Mericle's request was not unusual because the restaurants often responded warmly to her. Collecting menus as souvenirs seems to have been encouraged as a form of "word-of-mouth" advertising. A few menus actually are marked, "Please don't take this menu – ask for a souvenir instead;" some had a preprinted address block so they could be mailed. Most managers included a letter, thanking her for her interest, or hoping to see her soon, or apologizing for the delay in responding. Managers of restaurants located in hotels often included information about the hotel or tourist brochures about their area, to spark her interest. In addition the envelopes often contained more than one menu. Depending on the type of restaurant, menus for breakfast, lunch, or dinner; inserts with the day's specials; daily menus for restaurants that changed their bill of fare daily; children's menus; and wine lists were included.
With the increasing number of families "eating out" during this three decade period and the development of the term "family restaurant," the menus document changing food selections and choices, and terms which appealed to this growing clientele. Childrearing practices, and child-appropriate foods and behaviors can also be examined through these materials. The change and variation in menu format and design of the average American restaurant as evidenced in these menus provide insight into marketing and sales devices.
The materials are organized into two series. Series one, subseries one consists of American menus and is arranged in alphabetical order, first by state and then by the name of the restaurant. Series one, subseries two contains materials other than menus including brochures, pamphlets, and a recipe book. Series two includes foreign menus and isare arranged in alphabetical order by country.

Collection is arranged into twoone series.
Series 1, American Menus, 1961-1996, undated
Subseries 1.1, American Menus, 1961-1996, undated
Subseries 1.2, Other Materials, undated
Series 2, Foreign Menus, 1965-1988, undated

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Virginia Lee Russ Mericle was born February 3, 1932 to Richard H. and Alice R. Russ in Washington, DC. She was a life long Washington-area resident and collector who amassed photographs of her favorite actors as a teenager. She married John P. Mericle and together they raised three children. At some point she developed agoraphobia and gradually stopped venturing outside her home. Despite this condition she wanted to remain connected to the world. From about the mid-1960s through the mid-1990s she contacted restaurants to request a copy of their menu. Mrs. Mericle never organized these materials, and most of the menus remained unopened as they had arrived in the mail. Virginia Lee Russ Mericle died on August 12, 2009 leaving a wealth of information relating to the dining- out experiences of people around the world.

Vanessa Broussard Simmons and Craig Orr
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated to the Archives Center in 2010 by Virginia Mericle's daughter, Vanessa Henderson.
Processing Information
Collection processed by Ramona Williamson (volunteer), Nancy Mulry (volunteer), Austin Arminio (intern), Thomas Espe (intern), Alexandra Henry (intern), Lesley Hill (intern), Anne Jones (volunteer), and Evelyn Strope (intern); supervised by Vanessa Broussard Simmons, 2010 and 2017.

Using the Collection
Preferred Citation
Virginia Mericle Menu Collection, 1961-1996, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Menus Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Food Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Restaurants Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Henderson, Vanessa Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Archives Center, National Museum of American History
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Suite 1100, MRC 601
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