I have always enjoyed cooking and my first cookbook was a copy of the 1975 edition of the Joy of Cooking given to me by my grandmother. Over the years I've purchased the new editions as they've come out, and I've recently started buying the older editions as well. I've finally managed to acquire one of each of the eight official editions that have been published.
The first edition of the Joy of Cooking was printed by the label printer A.C. Clayton. It was written by Irma Rombauer and illustrated by her daughter Marion Rombauer Becker. The cover depicts St. Martha of Bethany, the patron saint of cooking, battling a dragon. Only 3,000 copies were printed, making this one of the rarest modern cookbooks in existance, until recently, when a facsimile edition was released. The book is remarkably small compared to later editions, only 396 pages. Irma Rombauer's writing style was vastly different from other cookbook authors, taking an informal conversational tone rather than the formal instruction used in most cookbooks.
The second edition was published in 1936 by Bobbs-Merrill, who would publish the Joy of Cooking for the next 70 years. Only 60,000 copies were printed. With the recent reprinting of the first edition, this has become the rarest. My copy is of the final printing from 1941. Other than have been re-covered at some point (the original cover was yellow or blue, depending on printing, with a diagonal weave), this copy is in remarkably good condition for nearly 75 years old. At 640 pages, it's nearly double the size of the first edition.
The third edition was published in 1943 by Bobbs-Merrill, with some copies printed by Blakiston due to paper quotas during World War II. I have the first printing (1943) of this edition, the 1946 printing omits the chapters on wartime rationing. Irma had written another cookbook , Streamlined Cooking, in 1939, but it was not successful. Many of the recipes from that book were incorporated into this edition, pushing it to 884 pages. The third edition sold over 600,000 copies, making it the most popular cookbook in America. Julia Child's first cookbook was the 1943 edition of the Joy of Cooking. Of the copies I own, this is the one in the worst condition. The cover has been inexpertly repaired multiple times and is barely hanging on. Still, it's an interesting read, particularly the suggested substitutions for rationing, advocating the use of soybeans or peanuts in place of meat.
The fourth edition was published in 1951. By this time, Irma Rombauer was 74 years old and her health was beginning to decline. Wanting to keep the book in the family and worried that Bobbs-Merrill would bring in their own authors, she negotiated a clause in her contract naming her daughter Marion as her coauthor and successor. Marion had an interest in health food, which shows in this edition. The quick-cooking recipies from Streamlined Cooking were dropped in favor of recipies advocating whole grains and fresh produce. The 1951 printing contains several errors, which were corrected in the 1952 printing. My copy is the 1953 printing, which included a revised index. It weighs in at a whopping 1023 pages.
In 1962 Irma Rombauer passed away. That same year, Bobbs-Merrill published an new edition of the Joy of Cooking without permission from the authors. Irma's daughter Marion learned about the new edition from someone attending her mother's wake. The resulting book, usually referred to as the Unauthorized Edition, was filled with so many errors as to be completely worthless as a cookbook, though it does have some interest as a collector's item. Only 91,000 copies were sold, though many were returned; Marion forced the publisher to offer a corrected version to anyone who presented them with a 1962 edition. As it has little use for cooking, I do not have a copy of this printing.
The official fifth edition was published in 1964. So many corrections had to be made to the 1962 edition that the type for the entire book had to be reset. The publishers restricted the page count in this edition, dropping it to 861. This edition also marked the first appearance of a paperback version, published by New American Library. My hardback copy, printed in 1971, is in good condition, other than the severely mangled dust jacket. There is a handwritten note on the cover page, "Judy, Mom & Betty say this is an excellent cookbook. They use theirs much. Love, Denny & Linda." I wonder if Judy got much use out of it.
The sixth edition was published in 1975. It was the last edition edited by Marion Rombauer Becker and is generally considered the best edition ever published. It remained in print until 2006 and sold at least 10 million copies. This was the last edition published by Bobbs-Merrill. I received my copy from my grandmother. Its from the 1985 printing and, other than a missing dust jacket, is in excellent condition.
The Joy of Cooking remained unchanged until 1997, with the introduction of the seventh edition. It was printed by Simon & Schuster's Scribner imprint. Supervised by Ethan Becker, son of Marion Rombauer Becker and grandson of Irma Rombauer, much of the book was ghostwritten by expert chefs rather than a single amateur cook as the previous editions were. This edition dropped many of the "classic" recipes (gone are instructions on preparing possum, raccoon or moose), replaced with healthier and more modern dishes. It also eliminated the conversational tone that made the Joy of Cooking so endearing to its fans, preferring a more professional style. This edition, although quite comprehensive and accurate, was generally reviled by fans of the cookbook. My copy is from the original 1997 printing; I purchased it new. Although I prefer the sixth edition, I have probably used the seventh more often than any other edition.
The most recent eighth edition was published in 2006 on the 75th anniversary of the original edition. It was also published by Scribner and edited by Ethan Becker. This edition removes some of the professionalism introduced in the previous edition and returns Irma's conversational tone as well as many of the classic recipies, the cocktails and frozen desserts sections, and the Know Your Ingredients chapter. This edition is generally considered to be the true successor to the immensely popular sixth edition. My copy is of the original 2006 printing.
With an average of about 10 years per edition, I wouldn't doubt that a ninth edition is in the works.