Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Traveling Seed Dealers

Traveling Seed Dealers

The independent seed dealers & nursery owners converging on the mid-Atlantic area immediately after the Revolution usually were immigrants rather than native-born & European rather than English. A Frenchman, Peter Bellet, was one of the first commercial seedsman & nurseryman appearing in Maryland’s written records specifically offering garden plants & seeds directly to the public.

Bellet’s evolution from itinerant seed peddler to economically successful nursery owner typified the general trend of commercial seed & plant marketing during this period. Beginning as a traveling seedsman based in Philadelphia, where he operated a seed store, Bellet eventually settled in Williamsburg. He continued to advertise throughout the mid-Atlantic after his relocation to the old Virginia capital & sold plants to Maryland & Virginia gardeners for twenty years.

As a traveling seed salesman, Philadelphia-based Peter Bellet advertised in Baltimore in December of 1785, that he was visiting the French section of the town for a brief period & had for sale an extensive variety of flowers & seeds “not know before in this country.” Bellet was lodging in the hear of the town, at The Sign of the Lamb tavern on Charles Street, where he offered prospective customers a printed catalog listing the names & colors of his bulbs, which were imported from Amsterdam. He carried more practical kitchen garden seeds with him as well.

Bellet’s first Maryland advertisement reflected the preference for Dutch flowers among the middle & upper economic groups in the early republic. Bellet also brought with him “elegant artificial flowers & feathers suitable for the Ladies.” Bellet called himself a “florist & seedsman” on this trip & advertised his flowers as “rare & curious.”

Anatony Antonini, selling artificial silk flowers adorned with birds cast in wax John Thomas Smith. Vagabondiana. London, 1817

Seedsman Bellet’s plant stock became more expansive during successive selling trips. On a journey through the mid-Atlantic almost ten years later, in early 1793, Bellet advertised roots & seeds “collected from Europe,” & he offered to send orders to Europe as well. At this point, Bellet was still based in Philadelphia & had entered into partnership with another European seedsman, M. Kroonem.

They were also promoting stock that was more difficult to move from place to place than seeds & bulbs, such as trees & shrubbery, & had begun cultivating their imported European seed in Philadelphia soil. Bellet was offering a surprising number of varieties of flowers, especially roses, for sale. Bellet &Kroonem called themselves “florists, seedsmen, botanists, & gardeners” &, as Bellet had done earlier, advertised their extensive plant varieties as “curious.”

On this selling trip, his first taken as a partner, Bellet traveled his usual loop from Philadelphia to Baltimore to Richmond & back. In Richmond he took lodging at Hyland’s Tavern, where he again had on hand a free printed catalogue of his stock for prospective clients. To earn enough to support himself, Bellet also hired out to graft & inoculate trees & lay out flower gardens as reasonable rates. His partner, Kroonem, remained in Philadelphia to mind the store & tend to the nursery garden.

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