UTSC's collection of menus collected by Harley Spiller.
Harley Spiller (1960- ) moved to New York after college in 1981 to pursue a career in the museum field. A native of Buffalo, NY and a graduate of Northwestern University, the self-described “meat and potatoes” Spiller was promptly introduced to the diverse cuisine of New York City. He received a job as an administrative assistant for the curatorial department of the Jewish Museum, and with his tight annual salary, found himself going to Chinatown to buy inexpensive food. According to Guinness World Records, he now holds the largest menu collection in private hands.
Spiller first began collecting Chinese menus on his nightly walks up and down the streets of the Upper West Side, where he lived. At the time, the phenomenon of “menuing”—in which restaurants mass-printed take-out menus for delivery—was beginning in the city and Spiller, an English major, took advantage of this surplus of menus as free and easily accessible reading materials. When Spiller moved to a new apartment on New York Avenue, Manhattan, he continued his walks and collecting at what he called “bullet-proof” restaurants, eventually amassing a substantial stack of take-out menus. As people heard about his collection, they gifted menus from their travels to him. The biggest single donor of his collection is Dr. Jacqueline M. Newman, Queens College professor and lifetime collector of Chinese cookbooks who donated her collection to Stony Brook University. Spiller has also grown his collection through purchases on eBay, particularly acquiring dine-in menus. Prompted by inquiries from museums wishing to borrow items, he also started to collect artifacts and ephemera relating to Chinese restaurants and cookery.