24 vintage recipe boxes: Before food blogs & recipe apps, these compact organizers were a kitchen essential

Vintage recipe boxes and old recipe cards

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Back when recipes were usually handwritten, vintage recipe boxes were a happy homemaker’s most valued possession

If you’re Gen X or older, you may remember that your mom or grandmother always had a cute recipe box in their kitchen.

Vintage recipe boxes, like the examples we’ve collected below, were wee treasure chests that have long been used to store and organize recipe cards.

Usually made of wood, metal or plastic, vintage recipe boxes like these included a hinged lid that can be opened and closed, as well as dividers for organizing recipe cards by category, such as “main dishes,” “desserts,” or “cookies.”

Recipe card boxes have been used for many years as a way to store and organize recipe cards. For much of the 20th century, most recipe cards have measured 3 inches high by 5 inches tall. The 3×5 inch size for index cards is believed to have originated in the late 19th century, although the exact date is not known.

Thousands of old recipes have been handwritten on index cards (cardstock), although through the years, many recipes were printed specifically in that size so they could fit a standard recipe box. Many people also would tape or paste a small newspaper or magazine recipe onto an index card in order to avoid losing that tiny slip of treasured paper.

Fannie Merritt Farmer’s handy recipe cabinet (1920)

Fannie Merritt Farmer's handy recipe cabinet (1920)

Handy indexed cooking recipe outfit (1928)

Handy indexed cooking recipe outfit (1928)

Vintage 1930s recipe cabinets at Sears

Vintage 1930s recipe cabinets at Sears

Old-fashioned metal recipe box with folk-art style design
Old-fashioned metal recipe box with folk-art style design
Photo by Douglas Knight | Dreamstime.com

ALSO SEE: How to make beautiful folk-art paint designs using simple brushstrokes

Vintage red and white Lustro Ware recipe box (1953)

Vintage red and white Lustro Ware recipe box (1953)

Vintage Ladies Home Journal recipe treasure box (1958)

Vintage Ladies Home Journal recipe treasure box (1958)

Retro 50s Robin Hood Flour recipe box offer (1958)

To introduce the NEW Robin Hood Bag – this smart, modern recipe box

To introduce this new bag, we are making you this special offer —a smart, modern, Hi-Impact Styrene recipe box and 12 index cards, for only 50C and the certificate from any bag of Robin Hood Flour.

This colorful, non-breakable recipe box makes a wonderful shower or party gift. It is also a handy file for home records or mailing lists, and has many other uses. Its handsome, modern design will complement any kitchen…

Retro 50s Robin Hood Flour recipe box offer (1958)

Uncle Ben’s retro recipe box offer from 1967

Slant-top recipe box — Personalized recipe cards — Recipes from 10 of the world’s best restaurants.

75 personalized recipe cards, your name is printed at the top. You fill in your favorite recipes. Recipes from 10 of the world’s best restaurants. The secrets of master chefs are now yours. And your family’s delight at your cooking won’t be a secret, either. All yours for only $1.50 and one Uncle Ben’s Quick Rice box top!

Features: Slant top — Holds recipe cards in easy-to-read position. Also has a pencil slot — Just the place for your own personal pencil. Makes for handy recipe jotting.

Available in white, sun yellow & avocado green

Uncle Ben's retro recipe box offer from 1967

Old-fashioned metal recipe box with flowers
Old-fashioned metal recipe box with flowers
Photo by Clovercity | Dreamstime.com

Retro yellow metal recipe box with flower graphic (c1960s)
Retro yellow metal recipe box with flower graphic (c1960s)
Photo by Laura Siivola | Dreamstime.com

Retro Menu Maker recipe files in popular kitchen colors (1970)

From Ladies’ Home Journal magazine: Here is the roomiest, most helpful recipe file, one that promises better organization than ever.

Thousands of homemakers find these files an easy, permanent way to arrange their personal recipe collections. This unbreakable, polypropylene, pebble-finished file is light to handle and easy to keep clean.

Capacity is about four times that of the usual small file box; it contains 24 index cards tabbed in the categories you will find most helpful. Each index card has room for your own reference notes.

Sixty recipes have been selected by our Food Editors, ready to clip and add to your own collection. For easy reference, an equivalent chart shows all measurements and equivalent quantities of basic ingredients.

100 clear plastic sleeves hold recipes clean and neat. You can buy more as needed. A shopping list pad, including handy lists of food and household products, will make meal planning easy and take the indecision out of shopping.

Retro Menu Maker recipe files in popular kitchen colors (1970)

House Beautiful magazine’s brown recipe chest (1972)


This handy recipe chest will be an everyday helper in your own kitchen and also makes a great gift. A compact 13″ by 5-1/2″ by 8-1/2″, it comes with 10 preprinted tab separators for 21 recipe categories, holds over a thousand recipes on 3″ by 5″ index cards (not included).

Drawer stores clippings, coupons, etc.; open top props recipes for easy reference. Chest is plastic with a walnut look, wipes clean with damp cloth. Available only with chest: plastic sleeves for recipe cards.

ALSO SEE: Dozens of kitschy 70s kitchen accessories your mom or grandma probably used to have

Old House Beautiful brown recipe chest (1972)

70s McCalls Great American Recipe Card Collection (1973)

FREE INTRODUCTORY OFFER: Over 500 individual, full-color cards • Over 1,000 great American recipes • Tested by experts • Easy-to-read • Easy-to-use

On the eve of America’s 200th birthday, the editors of Random House and McCall’s have created for you one of the finest treasuries of recipes ever assembled — McCall’s Great American Recipe Card Collection.

Capturing the spirit of America through its recipes, we have brought together the famous dishes from the great riverboats and restaurants…spicy Creole dishes from New Orleans…chowders and barbecues…stews and casseroles…cakes and pies from the 50 states.

We have combed through century-old files to recover long-lost, mouth-watering recipes from early America, and have streamlined them for modern kitchens. And that was only the beginning!

For we have printed these prizewinning recipes on individual recipe cards. Each card contains a stunning, full-color photograph of the recipe as it will look when you have prepared it. And the cards are stain-resistant and may be carried to the market for ease in shopping.

But actions speak louder than words, and to show you how sincerely we believe in this wonderful collection, we would like to send you the first set of cards — OUR RICH HERITAGE — for a 14-day, free trial examination. In this ‘set you will find 31 of the most delicious, all-American recipes you have ever tasted — and all to easy to prepare!

70s McCalls Great American Recipe Card Collection (1973)

YOUR FREE GIFT: This beautiful Bicentennial Recipe Card Case, designed exclusively to house McCall’s Great American Recipe Card Collection, is available only through this special introductory offer. It cannot be purchased in stores at any price. The case and 24 full-color Separator Cards arc yours to keep as a free gift…

At the same time, we will send you the handsome Bicentennial Recipe Card Case pictured here, plus 24 fascinating Separator Cards describing the hundreds and hundreds of exciting recipe cards available to you.

If, after your 14-day free trial examination, you are not entirely satisfied with your first net of recipe cards in every way, just return them to on and owe nothing. The Bicentennial Recipe Card Case and the Separator Cards are yours to keep as a gift.

If you decide to keep the first set, you will pay just $1 plus a small charge for postage and handling. As a subscriber you will then have an opportunity to receive the second set (OUR FAMOUS RESTAURANTS) and the third set (SUNDAYS AT HOME) each about a month apart — always on 14-day approval.

Then, if you wish, you may continue to receive the remainder of the sets at the rate of 3 sets a month for 7 months, always on approval and always at the same low price of just $1 per set, plus a small charge for postage and handling, and local tax.

Retro yellow plastic recipe box with white floral design on front
Retro yellow plastic recipe box with white floral design on front
Picture by ErrantPixels/Deposit Photos

Betty Crocker recipe card library (offer from 1974)

The beautiful recipe file shown here contains more than 1,000 kitchen-tested recipes from the world-famous Betty Crocker Kitchens.

In your kitchen, each one of these sure-fire recipes will produce a mouth-watering dish as tempting as the ones pictured here. These dishes are produced by simply following the recipes, and the pictures show you exactly what you are preparing as you prepare it.

ABSOLUTELY FREE: Moreover, the handsome recipe file, valued at $5.00, is yours FREE just for examining your first set of Betty Crocker recipe cards. The file comes in your choice of four stunning decorator colors. Besides keeping your cards clean, tidy, and ready for instant use at any time, it is a flattering addition to your kitchen work space.

SEND NO MONEY: To take advantage of this special offer, simply indicate your choice of decorator color on the coupon and mail it to us. We will rush your first set of 27 Recipe Cards — SEASONAL FAVORITES — and four blank cards for your own recipe discoveries… PLUS the Recipe File and Divider Cards for 14 days FREE examination…. When your Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library is complete. you will have more than 1,000 recipes at your fingertips to meet every home and entertainment need.

In all the thousands of recipes developed and tested by the Betty Crocker Kitchens over the years, we have chosen the most popular—YOUR Favorites! There are more than 1,000 recipes in all, many never before in print. They are divided into 24 categories. some of which are for parties— others are for family meals.

Since we first introduced this new concept in cooking convenience, the response has been enormous. Literally hundreds of thousands of letters have poured in praising the Library, and ordering more cards. So do order soon while the supply lasts. We know this wonderful Library, will give you a new lease on cooking and entertaining.

Colors available: Avocado Green, Flame Red, Harvest Gold, Antique White

Old Betty Crocker recipe card library (1974)

Vintage metal recipe box with retro graphics
Vintage metal recipe box with retro graphics - Kaye
Photo courtesy Jay Kaye/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Family Circle’s wood recipe box file (1975)

What a beautiful way to reorganize your recipes! Our sturdy, pre-painted wood box with a raised three-dimensional vegetable design will do your kitchen proud.

And this file is really efficient. The box (11″x4-1/2″x4-1/2″) has a center divider to give you space to file over a thousand 3″x5″ recipe cards. You can also order clear-plastic sleeves to protect your cards and to hold the recipes you clip from the pages of Family Circle.

MORE: Vintage colored paper towels: See 60+ old-fashioned patterns, colors & kitchen towel styles

Also included are a set of index cards with headings of the most-used categories, a quick and easy Reference Chart of Equivalents to be pasted on the inside cover, a Culinary Calculator that tells you how to increase or decrease recipe amounts and a Meat-timer Calculator.

All you do is apply the colorful die-cut decal on the box, glue the three-dimensional cutout and attach the brass handle. Can you think of a prettier way to refer to your recipes? The colors will match every kitchen color scheme.

Family Circle's wood recipe box file (1975)

Retro Land O’Lakes butter recipe box offer (1977)

Retro Land O'Lakes butter recipe box offer (1977)

Old Campbell’s Soup recipe box promo ad (1977)

Old Campbell's Soup recipe box promo ad (1977)

Mead recipe organizer – The System (1982)

Every great cook needs a System. It helps you organize your recipes so you can find them quickly. And now there’s a system for almost everything else around your house from letters to bills to checks. It comes in six convenient sizes — the perfect filing system for home and office.

These handsome, sturdy boxes open wide for easy access. They all have easel tops for holding individual cards up straight, so you can separate veal parmigiana from veal scallopine, as well as Blue Cross from Red Cross. And each file box comes with its own pencil holder.

The System. It turns disorder into order.

Mead recipe organizer - The System (1982)

Old-fashioned style Heinz recipe box from 1988
Old-fashioned style Heinz recipe box from 1988 - Mitchell
Photo courtesy Amy Jane Mitchell/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Antique style Quaker Oats metal recipe box from 1984
Antique style Quaker Oats metal recipe box from 1984
Photo courtesy Cindy Shebley/Flickr (Creative Commons)

ALSO IN RETRO HOMES: See 20 old-fashioned cloth calendars that lived on as kitchen dishtowels

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One Response

  1. My mother had one of these little metal recipe boxes; she had it for as log as I could remember, and it was still in the house when she passed away. She used it for all her favorite, go-to recipes so she could literally have them at her fingertips (though I think she had most of her recipes memorized). My daughter has the box now.

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