Monday, May 22, 2017

By End of 18C - Many Ways to Get Seeds & Plants

By End of 18C - A Variety of Ways for American Gardeners & Farmers to Get Seeds & Plants

By the end of the 18C, enterprising plant & seed dealers were successfully spurring on ever-widening circles of clients to new heights of interest in plant collecting & in emerging botanical class & order delineations. They also persuaded their customers that greenhouses & stovehouses were status symbols. Their sales pitch was definitely aimed at those who would see plant collection as a reflection of their superior taste & knowledge.




Mid-Atlantic gardeners at the end of the 18C did not depend solely on seed merchants & nursery owners for their seeds & plants. In fact the gentry & the middling sorts alike were still using traditional techniques of exchanging plants. Wealthy Charles Carroll of Carrollton wrote from Annapolis to friends in England for seeds he remembered from his years of British schooling. While the Carrolls continued to buy seeds from London & the colonies, the elder Carroll instructed his son as to which neighbors would give him seeds & starts from plants he admired.

During the same period, Annapolis craftsman William Faris both bought & traded seeds & plants. On March 3, 1792, he noted in his diary, “Planted Carrots & parsnips that Mr. Wallace sent me for Seed;” & on May 5 of that year he wrote, “Doct Scott sent Me Some Carnation or rather pink plants & I sent him some Evening primrose plants.” Faris traded for or received as gifts most of his garden plants & seeds, as did the majority of gardeners at the turn of the century.


When craftsman Faris did buy seeds & plants from Baltimore, he sometimes sent cash for the garden stock by way of ship Captain John Barber, who ran an regular shuttle between Annapolis & Baltimore. Faris recorded in his fiscal accounts on March 7, 1798, “Cash sent by Capt. John Barber to Mr. C. Robinson for garden seeds-7/6.” Usually, however, Faris bough his Baltimore seeds from Maximillian Heuisler, who personally delivered them to Annapolis. The capitalistic nursery & seed business was nipping at the heels of traditional garden barter exchanges.


Some gardeners still ordered their stock directly from England, especially the gentry, like the Carrolls, who had been ordering goods from Britain through their factors for decades. Faris’s neighbor, Dr. Upton Scott made a list of flowers from the English garden periodical Curtis’s Botanical Magazine &recommended to the Edward Lloyd family, at Wye plantation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that “if cultivated at Wye, (they) would add greatly to the beauty & elegance of that delightful Place.” Scott advised the English dealer, “It is hoped the Nurseryman employ’d will endeavour to execute this Commission with fidelity & dispatch …under an assurance that, if he transacts the Business satisfactorily, he will have more calls upon him from this quarter of the Globe.”


But direct orders to England diminished as early mid-Atlantic seed merchants & nursery owners began to offer a wide variety of seeds & plants, both imported & locally grown, to the public. They could appeal directly to potential customers’ senses, by selling flowers at the height of their bloom, & to status seekers who were amassing plant collections, by offering unusual stock.


They also tailored their sales promotions to the changing gardening market in the region, as it expanded beyond traditional gardeners, who planted principally for sustenance, to those who planted for pleasure & status during their growing leisure time, decorating both house & grounds with plants.


Gardening for pleasure was no longer just the province of a few wealthy planters but increasingly an avocation of the expanding of artisans & merchants, who were amassing capital that they could exchange for ornamental luxuries that would proclaim their status to their neighbors. In the early years after the Revolution, these emerging groups were continually coaxed by clever entrepreneurs to dispose of their extra capital on ornamental gardening.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

1918 J. Bolgiano & Son Seed & Plant Catalog from Baltimore, MD reflects the Patriotic Liberty Gardens of WWI

In the 19C, Joseph Ault Bolgiano (1836-1913), F W Bolgiano, & J Bolgiano Jr operated the J Bolgiano & Son Seed Store at 28 S Calvert Street in Baltimore, Maryland. Joseph Ault was the son of John (Johnnes) H Bolgiano (1812-1892) who had Joseph Ault Bolgiano with with Charlotte Hannah Ault in Baltimore, Maryland. John (Johnnes) father was Francis William Bolgiano, Sr (c 1769-1832) immigrated to Baltimore, Maryland from Italy or Germany. He married Elizabeth Weller on 25 May 1799 in Baltimore, Maryland, daughter of Johan Georg Weller. Francis W. is listed in the Baltimore City Directory as a 'bread and biscuit baker' from 1799-1827.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Comparison of Seed Dealers & Nursery Owners in South Carolina & the Mid-Atlantic & Upper South

The pattern established by the growing South Carolina seed & nursery trade is similar to that of the Mid-Atlantic & Upper South, but there are some significant differences. In the extended Chesapeake region, gardeners & plant dealers dedicated to promoting & selling plants found their most secure footing after the Revolution.

Female Pennsylvania & South Carolina nursery owners & seed merchants successfully began selling both useful &ornamental plants decades before the Revolution. In South Carolina, much seed & plant material was imported from England, both before & after the Revolution.

In the Chesapeake, the earliest seed merchants & nursery owners, appearing after the Revolution, were from France & Germany. After the war, Dutch bulbs & roots found their way into South Carolina as well; and itinerant French seed merchants also peddled their wares in Charleston, but English nursery proprietors continued to own the majority of Carolina businesses.

In both regions, English gardeners & nursery owners came to dominate the local seed & nursery trade by the turn of the century. Both Chesapeake & Carolina garden entrepreneurs offered a full range of stock from greenhouse plants to seeds for field crops, from traditional medicinal herbs to fragrant shrubs by the beginning of the first decade of the 19th-century.

Seed merchants & nursery owners in both areas aggressively advertised their services & stock (at both retail and wholesale prices) in regional newspapers, & sometimes offered free printed catalogs to prospective clients. Gardeners in both regions sold seeds & plants at their nurseries & stores; at local farmers’ markets; and through agents at various locations throughout their regions.

Gardeners from both regions sold seeds & plants imported by ship from Philadelphia & New York, as well as those from their local suppliers. A new nationwide network of capitalistic nursery & seed business was nipping at the heels of traditional garden barter exchanges in the Mid-Atlantic, Upper South, & South Carolina as the 19C dawned over the horizon.

Friday, May 19, 2017

John Lewis Childs Seed and Plant Catalog

John Lewis Childs (1856-1921) was a horticultural businessman & politician who founded Floral Park, New York. Childs was born in Franklin County, Maine, & grew up in Buckfield. His career in horticulture began in 1874, when he took a job with C. L. Allen of Queens. Soon afterwards he began renting, then buying land in nearby East Hinsdale, Queens County, near other nurseries. While working as a seed seller, young Childs learned all he could about the business. After one year of apprenticing, Childs started his own seed business. He rented a small piece of land in East Hinsdale in 1875, & began selling seeds & bulbs. He created & marketed his products with leaflets,& he saw potential in mail order. He produced an 8-page list of products. As his business grew, he bought more land where he planted the most spectacular flowers. Childs became so successful that the name of the town was changed from East Hinsdale to Floral Park. By 1891, the post office name was also changed. The mail order company became so prosperous, it led to the establishment of a railroad station & freight office on Childs’s property, which was named Floral Park Station. Childs died in 1921 aboard a train after a sojourn in Florida & California. The seed catalog continued to operate throughout the 1920s but came to a halt during the Great Depression. Childs’s wife sold the catalog business to the Edward T. Bromfield Seed Company. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Early South Carolina - Newspapers announce gardeners, seed dealers & nursery owners

Just as it had in the Mid-Atlantic & Upper South, the method of selling seeds & plants changed dramatically in South Carolina at the end of the 18C. However, in South Carolina, the change began well before the American Revolution. The growth of urban economies gave rise to new commercial gardening ventures, nurseries & seed stores, operated by professional gardeners who initially imported & then grew their own seed & plant stock.

Newspaper advertisements, broadsides, & estate inventories give a fairly accurate reflection of the seeds & plants early South Carolina gardeners purchased in the marketplace before 1820. The South Carolina Gazette was Charleston’s first newspaper commencing publication in January 1732. Most early seed dealers used this newspaper as a vehicle for marketing their wares.

A gardener who came from England to South Carolina seeking work was William Bennet. In his initial ad for public work in the South Carolina and American General Gazette on May 13, 1771, he also noted “Seed to be sold,” which he had apparently brought with him from England. In the October 1, 1778, issue of the same publication he was still offering unspecified garden seeds for sale.

In in 1786 & 1787, someone claiming to represent Peter Crouwells, a well-known Philadelphia florist, who had immigrated from Holland, advertised in the South Carolina Gazette on December 11, 1786, “for sale, an extensive variety of the most rare and curious Bulbous Flowers, Roots & Seeds, which have never appeared in this country before they are just imported from Amsterdam…the most choice sorts of Hyacinths, double Jonquillea, Polyanthos, Narcissusses, Tarcetts, Tulips, double Tuberoses, Pasetouts, Carnations, with a great variety of double Ranunculas and Anemonies, a sort of Rose Bushes, etc.” Ladies and Gentlemen could get a catalogue giving the names and colors of all the Bulbous Flowers.

In February of 1790, John Chalvin & Co. Florists and Gardeners, from France” announced that they had brought “from France a great variety of Seed and Plants or flowering trees, lilly roots, jacinths, and crow feet of the scarcest and prettiest qualities; rose bushes of different colours; es also a great variety of pot and herbs seeds” which they had for sale at a very moderate price at No. 8 Elliott-street.



Charles Gross was a gardener on King Street in the 1790 Charleston City Directory, who bought a lot for his garden in Hampstead in 1792. From there he continued to work as a gardener and sold seeds until his death in 1802.


Edward Otter was another gardener & seedsman from England who brought garden seeds, peach trees, and Lombardy poplars with him when he came to Charleston In 1803.



John Foy’s Seed Store at 184 Meeting Street was especially active in 1810. In the November 14, 1810 issue of the Charleston Times he placed this notice: "A General Assortment of Choice Garden Flower, and Bird SEEDS FLOWER POTS, and some excellent APPLE TREES: ASPARAGIS-Gravesend; BEANS-Long Pod, Mangan, Windsor; BEET-Green, Blood Pled; BROCOLO-Purple, White; BURNET; CABBAGE-Early York, Heart Shaped, Sugar Loaf, early and later Battersea, Drum Head, Red Dutch, Green Glazed, Bergin, Green Savoy; CARROT-Early Mom, Orange, Yellow; CAULIFLOWER-Early and Late; CELERY-Solid, Italian, Chardoon, Chervil: CUCUMBER-Early Frame, Shod Prickly, Long Green roman: ENDIVE-Green Curled, White Curled, Broad Leaf or Bataivian; BEANS-Bush, China, Liver, Yellow, Refugee, RUNNERS-Scarlet, White; LEIUCE-Impoerial, Grand Admirable, Tennis Ball; ONIONS-Silver Skin, Large White. Red; LEEKS; PARSLEY-Double and single; PARSNIPS:PEASE- Early Frame, Golden Hospur, Early Charlton, Dwarf Marrowfat, Pearl and Prusian; Radish-Early Frame Salmon; White and Red do., White and Red Turnip, Saisafy, Sanzonara, Sorrel; SPINACH-assorted; TURNIP-assorted; BIRD SEEDS-Canary, Hopp, Maw, Rape; HERB SEEDS-assorted; FLOWER SEEDS-assorted; a few TULIPS and HYACINTHS; Assortment of most approved PEAR and APPLE TREES. JOHN FOY expects some PEACH and PEAR TREES, and also some APPLE TREES from the Botanic Garden, New-York."


By his December 24, 1810 ad in the same paper Foy added, “A HANDSOME assortment of FRUIT TREES."

William Dobbs operated a Seed & Plant Store at 315 King street. He advertised in the December 2, 1811 edition of the Charleston Times: "For sale at wholesale and retail, an extensive assortment of Choice Garden Flowers and Bird seeds, the growth of 1811. Also, a great variety of Double Flowering Hyacinths; double, single, parrot and sweet scented Tulips; Renunculus’s: Ixia Crocata; Persian Iris, white and yellow Narcissus; Gladiolius, Garden Tools, Flower Pors, Hyacinth Glasses. Upwards of 4000 Inoculated Fruit Trees, among which are all the most approved kinds of Apple; Pear, cherry, Plum, Peach, Apricot, Nectarine, Hughe’s Crab, Chinese, and Syberian Apple, soft shelled Almond. Quince, Goosebery, red white and black Currant, Filbert Nut, Antwerp Rapsberry. Ornamental Trees and Shrubs - doable flowering Peach, Cherry, and Almond, spired Fruitrix, Mountain Ash, English yellow Jessamine, dwarf variegated Althed, Venetian Shumach, Guilder Rose, Burgundy and Moss do. Balm of Gilead Fir."

Unfortunately, Dobbs died in the fall of 1812. His inventory of December 3, 1812, gives a glimpse of the property owned by the seeds: “Rose Apple Trees, Rosemary, Squills, Double Tube Roses, Amaryths, Peach Trees, 40 Canary Birds, Seeds, Bird Seed, shovels, spades, bird cages, pees, 2 green Houses and glasses, garden tools, Glasses for Roots, Shelves of Jars with Seeds in them Double Seeds Box”

In October 1812, Dobbs property was put up at auction through ads in the October 13 and 22 editions of the Charleston Courier“All the Personal Estate and Stock in Trade of WM. DOBBS, late of Charleston, Seedsman, deceased; consisting of a variety of elegant and choice Plants and Shrubs, in boxes and pots, various kinds of Seeds and Roots; Gardening Utensils; a variety of empty Flower Pots; an assorting of Crockery Ware: together with his elegant collection of Singing Birds; consisting of Canary and Mocking Birds; a Glass Case, containing stuffed Birds; empty Bird Cages; a few Botanical Books; Also, his two Green Houses with sashes. ALSO Several hundred choice Fruit Trees, now in the ground.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

1896 Garden. Field & Flower Seed Catalog from Chicago

W.W. Barnard Co., 10 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois 

William Wilcox Barnard (1856-1921), son of William Barnard II, founded & operated the W. W. Barnard Seed Co. in the late 1800s. The company was taken over by Ralph Howe, when William W. Barnard moved to California for his health where died in 1921. Ralph Barnard Howe, born in 1882, held a degree in agriculture from the University of Illinois. But the company did not survive the depression years. After graduating from Amherst College in 1845, William Barnard II headed west to homestead. He intended to settle in Iowa, but stopped in Chicago where he met Thomas Morgan who owned several thousand acres of land south of Chicago (now known as Morgan Park) Morgan convinced William Barnard II to settle near Chicago. In 1846, William Barnard II's parents & siblings joined him in Chicago to farm in the area that is now 49th Street & Vincennes Road. William Barnard II married Miranda Wilcox in 1852, & they had 4 children, Alice Sarah (1854), Mary Elizabeth (1855), William Wilcox (1856), & Emma Jerusha. (1859). William Barnard II eventually bought 160 acres in Longwood & built a home for his family at 101st & Longwood Drive. William Wilcox Barnard's grandparents Alice Emerson & William Barnard also came to Chicago from the Amherst, Massachusetts area. Barnard was a practicing physician for a time. Alice Emerson & William Barnard were married in 1819 & had 5 children, William Barnard II (1821), Elizabeth (1823), Daniel Emerson (1826), Alice Lucretia (1829), & Erastus Ames (1833).

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Early South Carolina - Philippe Stanislaus Noisette (1772-1835) Nurseryman & Seed Dealer

Another gardener & seedsman active in Charleston was Philippe S. Noisette. Philippe was a member of a distinguished family of nursery owners who had been gardeners to French nobles. He first moved from Paris to Haiti, when he was a young man and fell in love with a dark-skinned Haitian woman whose name was Celestine. In 1794, because of the Haitian slave revolution, he & Celestine relocated to Charleston, where he was offered a position as Superintendent of the South Carolina Medical Society Botanical Gardens.

He was especially interested in the production of sugar cane & ran this ad in the November 14, 1814 edition of the Courier"P.S.NOISETTE begs leave to inform the Planters of south Carolina that he has successfully cultivated, for some pears past, in his garden at Romney Village, opposite Mr. Turpires farm, the Sugar Cane; and that he has at this moment canes form which Sugar may be extracted. In consequence of this great advantages likely to be drived to this state, from this valuable plant, he offers cuttings for sale, to such as which to increase their wealth, and that of their country, et the rate of Five Dollars for a hundred buds, or eyes. He has also in his garden, a great quantity of FRUIT TREES, grafted by himself of the best kinds from Europe; such as different kinds of Peaches, Nectarines, Apricots, Plumbs, Pears, Apples, Figs and Grapes; as well as many foreign, Ornamental Trees, Shrubs and Plants. Also for sale, a collection of garden SEEDS, FLOWER SEEDS & FLOWER."

Philip Noisette's personal life was as interesting as his professional accomplishments. Because of the miscegenation laws of South Carolina, Philippe was forced to declare his wife, Celestine, his slave. They had 6 children who also became his slaves. The 1830 Federal Census recorded him as a single white man owning eight slaves, who are believed to be his wife & at least 5 of his 6 children.

In 1821, Charleston, records show that Phillipe Stanislaus Noisette, "Botanist of Charleston," stated that "under peculiar circumstances" he became "the Father of Six children, begotten upon his faithful Slave named Celestine." For many years it had been his intention to free his family, but the "passage of the late Law upon this subject" prompted him to seek their freedom now by the passage of a legislative act.

Shortly before his death, in 1835, Philippe petitioned the state of South Carolina for the emancipation of his faithful wife, now his slave, Celestine & their 6 children. Philippe died without knowing the results of his petition. Philippe’s family was in fact later emancipated and allowed to secure their inheritance & remain in the state of South Carolina.

In 1859, the South Carolina House of Representatives was petitioned to let the "mulatto" children of Philip Stanislas Noisette remain in South Carolina, as free persons of color. By his will Noisette had directed that the children, born of his enslaved wife, Celeste, be removed to some other country, where they would be free. The children, however, were "attached to the laws of the County, and very unwilling to remove."

Intrigue also followed Noisette's botanical accomplishments. An 1889 journal on botany reported the following information, "The Noisette Rose is a daughter of America. She was born one day in the garden of a brave citizen of Charleston, South Carolina, Mr. John Champney. It was obtained by fertilizing a Musk Rose, Rosa Moschata, by pollen from the China or Bengal Rose. Botanists called the new creation Rosa Moschata hybrida, and Rosa champneyana indifferently. But after awhile the name was superseded by that of Rosa Noisettiana in this way: At Charleston there lived a gardener named Philip Noisette, who was of French origin. This man fertilized one of Champney's hybrids, Champney's Pink Cluster, and getting from it another variety sent it in 1814 to Louis Freres, of Paris. The Rose became rapidly famous, and the name of Noisette replaced the first name of Champney, for the new race... The flowers of the Noisette are highly fragrant; they are numerous, double, and charm by the variety and delicacy of their colors." John Champneys, who lived southwest of Charleston, was an import-export merchant, whose trade was so successful, that he had his own wharves on Johns Island.

Monday, May 15, 2017

1898 D. M. Ferry & Co Autumn Catalog from Detroit, Michigan

Dexter Mason Ferry was born in Lowville, New York, on August 8, 1833, but after his father's passing when Dexter was 3 years old, he & his mother moved to Penfield, New York. Dexter went attended school there & at age of 16 began working on a farm. In 1851, when Ferry reached 18, he began working for Ezra M. Parsons of Rochester, New York. In a short time, in 1852, Parsons helped Dexter get a job as an errand boy for S .D. Elwood & Company, a stationery firm in Detroit, Michigan. There he was soon promoted salesman, & later bookkeeper. With a formal education, experience as a laborer, & various aspects of business under his belt, Mr. Ferry, along with 2 partners, Milo T. Gardner & Eber F. Church, founded Gardner, Ferry & Church on April 1, 1856, when Dexter was not quite 23. In 1865, Ferry bought out Gardner & the company name was shortened to Ferry, Church & Company. Church retired 2 years later, & Dexter dropped his ex-partner's name. Ferry focused on quality & gained a reputation for selling superior seeds. He chose to only sell fresh seed with tested high germination rates. In 1879, Mr. Ferry absorbed the Detroit Seed Company & incorporated as D. M. Ferry & Co. The company grew, released new varieties of vegetables, & thrived. On New Years Day in 1886, fire demolished the company's warehouse at with a loss of nearly $1,000,000. Ferry quickly decided to purchase seed stock & 2 smaller seed companies, & were able to fill customer's orders. They constructed a new warehouse, & by 1890 were selling over $1,500,000 annually. By the early 1900s, the company's sales grew to over $2,000,000 yearly through mail-order catalog sales as well as placing seed racks to 160,000 retail outlets. D. M. Ferry died on November 10, 1907. The company merged with the California based seed company, C. C. Morse Company in 1930, to become the Ferry-Morse Seed Company. They relocated to Kentucky in 1959.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Early South Carolina - Gardeners, Plant Dealers, & Botanists John Fraser & Sons

John Fraser & his son James were gardeners, botanists, & seed dealers active in Charleston from the 1780s, until James’ death in 1819. James remained in South Carolina during his father’s various returns to England.

In the Columbian Herald of December 17, 1795, James Placed the following advertisement. "GARDEN Seeds, JAMES FRASER, UP THE PATH. Has received 21 John Praiser, Nursery and Seedsman of Sloan Square, Chelsea, near London, per the ship Roebuck, A GENERAL ASSORTMENT OF CULINARY SEEDS."

In the December 6, 1808, Charleston Times, the following notice appeared, “FRASER & SON HAVE received by the schooner Blazing-Star from New-York, several hundred handsome PEACH, NECTARINE and APRICOT TREES a few handsome FLOWERS, SHRUBS, AND PLANTS.”

The June 1, 1809, issue of the Times carried a notice that, “Fraser & Son, Have imported from London, A GENERAL assortment of GARDEN and FLOWER SEEDS, which will be warranted as genuine, and all of the crop of 1808."

In 1810, they advertised, "A variety of English Garden & Flower Seeds; Flowers; Flower Pots; and a few rare Plants, the proper of Mr. John Fraser, botanist, having finished his collection of American plants. The seeds will be put up in convenient lots, for the accommodation of the purchaser. Any Ladies or Gentlemen who wish to be supplied annually with warranted Garden, Agricultural or Flower Seeds, and Roots, or choice Fruit Trees, will please send their orders to the said office, or address them to Messrs. MASERS & SONS Sloan Square, Chelsea, London."

Friday, May 12, 2017

Early South Carolina - Botanist, Nusreryman, Gardener, & Writer Robert Squibb

Robert Squibb, botanist, nurseryman, gardener, and writer, had published his catlogue-style book, The gardener's calendar, for South-Carolina, Georgia, and North-Carolina: Containing an account of work necessary to be done in the kitchen and fruit gardens every month in the year, with instructions for performing the same. Also particular directions relative to soil and situation, adapted to the different kinds of plants and trees most proper for cultivation in these states. He called himself a nursery and seedsman of Charleston, South-Carolina. The book was printed by Samuel Wright and Co. for R. Squibb, and recorded in the secretary of state's office, agreeable to the act of Assembly. (Price six shillings.), in 1787.

Squibb had announced his upcoming book with no undue modesty in the Charleston Evening Gazette of July 4, 1786. He declared that his patrons needed a gardening book to fit their particular coastal climate, and English books only mislead them with their instructions.

Squibb offered seeds for sale in the newspaper on August 19, 1795 in an issue of the City Gazette and Daily Advertiser“THE Subscriber, after many years practice in this state, is fully convinced that garden seeds saved here are much better than those imported and does hereby forewarn his friends and customers against depending on foreign seeds, in particular such as onion, leek, carrot, parsnips, parsley, celery, lettuce, endive and spinage.”

In 1801 Squibb advertised using much the same technique in the Augusta Chronicle and Gazette of the State of Georgia on March 14: “GARDEN SEEDS. THE Subscriber having taken up his residence in Augusta, as Market Gardener, and the saving of Seeds being a branch of his profession, intends from time to time, both to import and save seeds of the very best kinds."

Squibb declared that he was offering his services & plants out of a sense of public responsibility, "He considers it a duty he owes to himself and fellow citizens, to remind them of the numberless impositions that for some years past have taken place in this city, by sale of garden seeds, which from their age of the inexperience of the collectors, have either not vegetated or else produced a degenerated offspring, by which the public have been much discouraged in the cultivation of gardens. To remedy this evil he offers for sale a small assortment of SEEDS collected from his own plants."

However, in 1802, Squibb was back in Charleston at his old garden. Squibb called his garden and nursery, “The Botanic Garden.” In the June 8 1802, issue of the Charleston Times, he advertised, “that he has imported from London, a small assortment of GARDEN SEEDS, in excellent order. Also a few kinds of Seeds on his own saving, equal to any ever saved in this state. Market Gardeners may be supplied with London Salmon Redish Seed, at one dollar per pound.”


Robert Squibb died on April 22, 1806 at Silk Hope Plantation near Savannah, Georgia, and was buried there. However, an ad for the “Botanic Garden” appeared in the Charleston Courier on November 2, 1812, “At the Botanic Garden. A variety of Elegant PLANTS, Such as Liqusiriniums, Geraniums, Cleroaedrems, Rosa Multifloras, double and white Oleanders, Flowering Heaths, Laurustkius.”

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Early South Carolina - Gardener & Plant Dealer John Bryant

John Bryant was an English gardener who arrived in South Carolina, sometime before his 1794 marriage to Jane Thornton in St. Phillip’s Parish in Charleston. He first advertised in the City Gazette and the Daily Advertiser on June 6, 1795 as a gardener for hire, but also noted that, “like wise imports, on commission, all kinds of trees, shrubs and seeds, either useful or ornamental, from England, Philadelphia and New York.”

By his April 15, 1796 notice in the City Gazette and the Daily Advertiser, Bryant was importing seed for speculation rather than commission, “just Imported, a small assortment of seeds.” Bryant gained confidence in his buying public as the years passed, and by the December 15, 1807 issue of the Charleston Courier, he was advertising, “A QUANTITY of FRUIT TREES, FLOWERING SHRUBS and PLANTS, of the most esteemed for quality and beauty. The Fruit Trees consist of Peaches, Nectarines, Pears, Cherries, Plumbs and Quinces, of the largest size ever imported, for their age, into this state.”

In 1807, Bryant eventually became the Clerk of Market Hall, where many plants & seeds were sold & exchanged; but in the fall of 1808, Bryant died. His wife Jane kept the garden operating into the spring of the next year. She advertised in the February 13 issue of the Charleston Times “For sale at the late John Bryant’s Garden, upper end of King Street - grafted Peach, Nectarine, Apricot, Plum and Apple Trees; Pride of India…Pine Apple plants…Geranium, and other Green House Plants.” She did not advertise again.


But it seems that someone bought Bryant's store & stock. The Charleston Times of January 16, 1811, announced the opening of a new seed store King Street. The unidentified proprietor advertised: “New Seed and Plant Store, Wholesale and retail 200...220 KING STREET RECEIVED from London an extensive assortment of choice Garden, Field, Flower and Bird Seeds, the growth of 1810. Also, by the ship Minerva, from New York, a large supply of fresh American SEEDS, together with the former Stock of fresh Seeds on hand, making the most complete and extensive assortment of Seeds ever offered for sale in this city. On hand, a large assortment of inoculated FRUIT TREES, among which are all the most approved kinds of Peach, Pear, Apple, Cherry, Plum, soft shelled Almond, Dwarf Pear, Dwarf Apple; Fruit and Flowering Shrubs, Red and White Antwerp Raspberry, that gives remarkable large Fruit, Red and White Currant, English yellow Jesamine, Lilach, with a large assortment of Plants, Garden Tools, Flower Pots, Hyacinth Glasses, Bulbous Roots, Split Pease, Oat Meal, Flour or Mustard, Etc.”

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

1898 Plant Catalogs from Conrad & Jones of West Grove, PA

Alfred Fellenberg Conard, (1835-1906)–West Grove, Pennsylvania–was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1835. He descended from German Quakers who were part of William Penn’s Colony in 1683. He worked on his father’s farm & learned the nursery business from Thomas M. Harvey. Conard formed the firm of Conard & Brother, but some time after 1862 he started a nursery business with Charles Dingee under the name Dingee & Conard. The business had two greenhouses & the establishment was known as the Harmony Grove Nursery. About 1867 the firm started propagating roses under a new system introduced by Antoine Wintzer. Conard conceived the idea of disposing of their rose stock through the mail. Their first catalog offered bedding plants, shrubbery, bulbs, seeds, & roses. About 1892 Conard separated from Dingee & along with Antoine Wintzer joined with S. Morris Jones in 1897 to become Conard & Jones Co. The new company continued with the growing & distribution of roses & flowering plants. As another specialty, they worked on the improvement of the canna. Conard died on December 15, 1906.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Early South Carolina - Gardener & Plant Dealer John Watson

One of the most important working gardeners & seed dealers of the last half of the 18C in South Carolina was John Watson. He came to the province seeking work as a gardener from London in 1755. By December 10, 1763 he advertised in the South Carolina Gazette that he had imported from London, “a proper assortment of garden seed, flower roots, me, which he will sell reasonably.”

In 1764, when John Laurens built his "large, elegant brick house of sixty feet by thirty-eight," with piazzas on the south & east sides overlooking the marshes & Cooper River. He & Martha Laurens created a 600' by 450' brick-walled botanical garden, containing such exotics as orange, olive, lime, capers, ginger and guinea grass, with the aid of John Watson.

By September of 1765, Watson advertised an expanded line of garden wares advertised in the South Carolina Gazette. Beside garden seeds and flower roots, he offered “…a great collection of fruit trees, Of all kinds, which have been grafted and budded from the best fonts in the province, with a great variety of English grape vines.”


On February 4, 1778, Watson added clover seeds to his offerings. By the November issue of the South Carolina Gazette for the same year, he noted for sale “a great variety of Tulips, hyacinths, lilies, anemanies, ranuculuses, double jonquils” as well as asparagus roots.

His wares became more exotic by his November 28, 1776, notice in the South Carolina Gazette, Watson offered for sale “Sweet Almonds, Filberts, English Quinces, Olives, China double flowering Peaches, Almonds and Pomegranates.”

On January 1, 1778 his ad in the South Carolina and American General Gazette offered “Hazel Nuts Nutmeg, Myrtle flowering Trees….Magnolia or Laurels fit for Avenues, etc. any height from three to twenty, Artichoke.”

John Watson’s last notice appeared in February of 1789, when he offered “seedling cassenas for hedges, tallow trees for exportation.” In March 1789, John Watson died. His sons James Mark and John ran the nursery, until young John left South Carolina in 1802, finally selling “Watson’s Gardens.”

Sunday, May 7, 2017

1895 Catalog of the John A. Salzer Seed Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin

A timeline of the life of seedsman, John A. Salzer and the company he created in La Crosse, Wisconsin

1823 - John Adam Salzer was born in Dettingen, W√ľrttemberg, Germany on December 28, 1823 to John G. Salzer, a nurseryman and fruit-raiser.
1846 - Immigrated to the United States.
1849 - Married Wilhelmina Joerris.
1866 - John Salzer the pastor of the German speaking Methodist Church in La Crosse. He served in this position until 1869. It was reported that he delighted in jaunts into the country where he could see the fields of grain and fruit trees. Many fields were planted with seeds purchased from his company.
1868 - The "John A. Salzer Seed Company" in La Crosse, Wisconsin is established.
1884 - "The collection of plants owned by Mr. Salzer is estimated at $20,000 value and the transactions of the house, which reach all over the United States, will amount to over $40,000 per annum. This is the largest house of the kind in the Northwest, outside of Chicago, and Mr. Salzer also owns seed farms where he grows seeds for his large seed trade in St. Vincent, Minnesota, and Bath and Groton, Dakota, also has control of a small seed farm for growing celery, lettuce and beet seeds near Sacramento, California. Handsome and complete catalogues of plants and seeds have been prepared by Mr. Salzer, which can be obtained upon application, German or English edition as desired. Since 1881 the business has been largely increased owing to the liberal use of printer's ink. The high estimation in which this house is held has been secured by the enterprise and liberality of the proprietor and the superior excellence of the plants and seeds sold by him as well as the skill and exquisite taste displayed in the arrangement of cut flowers in various novel and unique designs."
1884 - In this year, he purchased a family cottage in Minnesota that he named "Ferndale." He and his family may have camped at that site in Minnesota for some years before he purchased Ferndale as a summer camping ground and retreat. Many guests also came to visit and the primitive cabin was improved upon each year. (Note: Ferndale was destroyed in 1957 due to the expansion of U.S. Highway 61.)
1886 - The company is incorporated.
1892 - On January 22, John A. Salzer dies at 68 years and 25 days and is interned at the Oak Grove Cemetery in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Section: 25 Lot: 727.
1892 - Henry Salzer, son of John, takes over the management of the seed company and runs it until his death in 1917.
1919 - First service of what was to become the La Crosse Municipal Airport began on November 29, on leased land that was was once a Salzer Seed Company cornfield. Service was abandoned in 1922 but resumed in 1928 at which time the city council voted to purchase the land.
1920 - As early as 1920, they claimed that they were recognized as the largest mail-order seed house in America.
1922 - The company is printing and distributing 1,000,000 catalogs per year.
1945 - The family sold the business.
1958 - The company closed.

Sources:
La Crosse Public Library-Salzer Family.
Salzer Summer Home Scrapbooks,
1897-1898 Print Ad, 1920 Footsteps of La Crosse: A Journey Through Time & Architecture "Die Nordwest Deutsche Konferens der Bisch√∂flichenMethodistenkirche," 
Charles City, Iowa, 1913 Chipmunk Coulee Pioneers and their Early German Methodist Church A History of La Crosse, Wisconsin, 1900-1950,
Stanley N. Miller La Crosse, Her Trade, Commerce and Industries: 1883-1884, pgs 74-75 "History of La Crosse County, Wisconsin", 1881, p. 789
 Autobiography, John A. Salzer, 1869

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Early South Carolina - Plant Dealer & Garden Writer Martha Logan (1701-1779)

Martha Logan (1701-1779) first advertised her gardening wares in November 1753 in the South Carolina Gazette. She offered for sale “seeds, flower roots, and fruit stones at her house” on the Green, near Trotts Point. Martha Logan was the daughter of Robert Daniell, Landgrove and Deputy Governor of South Carolina. She was born December 29, 1704, and married George Logan, Jr. on July 30, 1719. Widowed by 1741, she was keeping a boarding school for children where they would be “carefully taught to read, write, dance and work several kinds of needle-work” in a “pleasant, airy situation” on the green near Mrs. Trott’s point. But her first love was gardening.

Martha Logan wrote a “Gardener’s Kalendar” that appeared until well past the turn of the 19th century in various almanacs. In the March 14, 1768, South Carolina Gazette she advertised seed imported from London: “A Fresh assortment of very good garden seeds and flower roots, with flowering shrubs and box edging beds, now growing in her garden.” Her notice establishes that box was used for edging in pre-Revolutionary gardens.

1899 Minneapolis Flower & Seed Catalog

From the Minneapolis Journal, Apr. 18, 1900 Prominent among the specialized enterprises of Minneapolis is that of S. Y. Haines & Co., 105 Boston Block, Minneapolis who are growers & dealers in flower seeds exclusively, with office at 105 Boston Block. Haines, who is a native of Tennessee, has been identified with this line of business for 25 years. He came to Minneapolis 8 years ago & was a partner in the same line with other parties prior to September, 1898, when he established this business, in which his wife is associated with him. He has made a life-long study of flower culture, & of the best places for the cultivation of the different varieties, & he has seeds grown by contract at various places in the United States, Italy, & Germany, with the best results in quality of seeds, & the firm handle flower seeds in the largest variety & have built up an extensive trade with dealers & florists all over this country, & also ship to all parts of the world. The firm scrupulously maintains the high quality of the seeds they handle, by careful testing & selection, & there is no house in the country better prepared to meet the demands of floral experts for the best flower seeds of standard varieties & the most attract- ive novelties. Haines has a wide reputation as an expert & he is now in Washington, D. C, where he is in charge of the government seed contracts, of over 15,000,000 packets of seeds for the congressional distribution for this season. His wife, who is thoroughly experienced, is managing the business most effectively during his absence.

Friday, May 5, 2017

1897 Michigan Seed Dealer D M Ferry distributes Seed & Plant Catalogs


Dexter Mason Ferry was born in Lowville, New York, on August 8, 1833, but after his father's passing when Dexter was 3 years old, he & his mother moved to Penfield, New York.  Dexter went attended school there & at age of 16 began working on a farm. In 1851, when Ferry reached 18, he began working for Ezra M. Parsons of Rochester, New York.  In a short time, in 1852, Parsons helped Dexter get a job as an errand boy for S .D. Elwood & Company, a stationery firm in Detroit, Michigan. There he was soon promoted salesman, & later bookkeeper. With a formal education, experience as a laborer, & various aspects of business under his belt, Mr. Ferry, along with 2 partners, Milo T. Gardner & Eber F. Church, founded Gardner, Ferry & Church on April 1, 1856, when Dexter was not quite 23. In 1865, Ferry bought out Gardner & the company name was shortened to Ferry, Church & Company. Church retired 2 years later, & Dexter dropped his ex-partner's name. Ferry focused on quality & gained a reputation for selling superior seeds. He chose to only sell fresh seed with tested high germination rates. In 1879, Mr. Ferry absorbed the Detroit Seed Company & incorporated as D. M. Ferry & Co. The company grew, released new varieties of vegetables, & thrived. On New Years Day in 1886, fire demolished the company's warehouse at with a loss of nearly $1,000,000. Ferry quickly decided to purchase seed stock & 2 smaller seed companies, & were able to fill customer's orders. They constructed a new warehouse, & by 1890 were selling over $1,500,000 annually.  By the early 1900s, the company's sales grew to over $2,000,000 yearly through mail-order catalog sales as well as placing seed racks to 160,000 retail outlets. D. M. Ferry died on November 10, 1907. The company merged with the California based seed company, C. C. Morse Company in 1930, to become the Ferry-Morse Seed Company. They relocated to Kentucky in 1959.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Early Seed Dealers & Nursery Owners - Maryland

Throughout the mid-Atlantic, private gardeners were also selling bulb stock directly out of their gardens to meet the growing appetite for flowers among their neighbors. Henri Stier, a well-to-do Annapolis neighbor of William Faris, like Faris, sold tulips & other bulb plants to fellow Annapolitans by opening his garden at full bloom in the spring, so that buyers could mark with notched sticks the varieties they wanted dug from the ground after the blossoms & leaves had faded away in the heat of summer.

Dealers in Baltimore, Maryland

A second professional nurseryman from Europe, a German immigrant named Philip Walter, arrived in Maryland in 1786, a little over a year after Bellet’s first advertisement appeared. Walter wanted no part of the traveling life. He was a serious gardener who yearned to ten the land all year round.


Walter was determined to begin his American business venture as a settled commercial nurseryman specializing in orchard plants. He decided to sell his products near the busy Market House at the foot of Belvedere, the elegant estate of then-colonel John Eager Howard. Townspeople came to shop at the market on Wednesdays & Saturdays, when neighboring farmers would load up their wagons with produce to sell & journey to Howard’s Hill.


With an establishment at the market, Walter figured, clientele would be drawn continually to his location, & they would be inspired to new heights in gardening by the awesome example of Colonel Howard’s park like gardens & grounds. Walter first advertised in the spring of 1787, calling himself a seedsman & a nurseryman, but he concentrated on selling primarily orchard stock. Twenty years after arriving in the busting port town, Walter was robbed & murdered at his nursery, on Hookstown Road.


Crops maturing in Thomas Jefferson's Kitchen Garden at Monticello


While some European seed merchants & nursery owners such as Walter & Bellet decided to settle down & grow their stock in mid-Atlantic soil, others continued to import & travel. In the spring of 1790, John Lieutaud, a gardener & florist from France, passed through Maryland selling seeds, roots, & bulbs imported from France & Holland. Lieutaud used much of the same method of operation as his fellow Frenchman Bellet did on his mid-Atlantic selling rounds.


Lieutaud, who was from the province of Dauphiny, also offered the “curious” a printed catalogue. He boarded at the home of Captain Gould, on busy Charles Street in Baltimore, where potential customers could come to pick up a catalogue & he hoped, buy seeds. To supplement his income Lietaud proposed to prune, graft, & inoculate trees “at a moderate price.”




The next European seedsman & nursery owner to appear in Maryland records was Maximillian Heuisler, in immigrant from Munich, Bavaria. While Heuisler settled permanently in Baltimore, he often made day trips to neighboring towns, such as Annapolis, to meet local gardening enthusiasts & to hawk his wares. He was a regular seed supplies to William Faris.

Heuisler personally delivered both plants & seeds to his mid-Atlantic customers. His wife never knew whether her husband would return from these trips with cash, new plants, or baskets of food: Heuisler traded for new seeds & plants to expand his varieties & stock, he sold for cash, & he accepted produce in trade.


Plant dealer Heuisler’s first advertisement as a commercial seed vendor appeared in 1791. Aggressive in advertising his wares, he was always looking for new ways to attract potential customers. He paid to have his advertising notice in the February 1795 issue of a Baltimore newspaper illustrated with a woodcut of potted plants. His nursery situated on 40 acres about 1 ¼ miles north of Baltimore on the Philadelphia Road, was depicted on an 1801 map of the town. He regularly advertised an extensive assortment of trees & shrubberies, both useful & ornamental, for mid-Atlantic “plantation,” orchard, kitchen, & flower gardens, plus fresh garden seeds of every description.


Heuisler was thought by one contemporary to be the best professional gardener in Baltimore at the end of the 18C. In 1803, Heuisler sold his Philadelphia Road nursery &established one closer to his Annapolis market, on the Portland-Ferry-Branch, near the southwest corner of Baltimore. Maximillian Heuisler died in 1816, but his son, Joseph A. Heuisler, carried on his father’s determination to build & maintain a well-respected seed & nursery business throughout much of the 19C.




At least two immigrants to Baltimore who became professional nursery owners near the turn of the century began their careers in America as gardeners under contract to busy gentlemen who had planted elaborate gardens for both food & status. Each of these gardeners saved enough capital to become successful nursery owners as the new century dawned.

One was a French immigrant, John Bastian, who had come to Baltimore to supervise the elaborate gardens at Harlem, owned by Adrian Valeck. The other was James Wilkes, who had been apprenticed as a gardener in England then immigrated to oversee the gardens of George Grundy at his country house Bolton in Baltimore, where Wilkes worked for 3 years.


When Wilkes went into business for himself in 1798, he continued to offer his services as an independent gardener, available by the day, month, or year. To further supplement his income, he worked as a part-time nursery gardener for Heuisler. By 1803, he had amassed enough capital to buy Heuisler’s Philadelphia Road nursery, when the Heuislers opened the nursery in southwest Baltimore. Wilkes sold fruit trees & a large variety of ornamental shrubbery, greenhouse plants, & seeds imported from London, the same stock that had been the basis for Heuisler’s business at that location. From 1803 until the 1820s, Wilkes sold vegetables, flowers, & exotic hothouse & greenhouse plants from his nursery.


John Bastian arrived in Maryland before 1790, & was still working as gardener for the estate of Harlem in 1802. By 1808, he had begun his own independent seed & nursery business near Baltimore, & it continued until 1839. Even when his contract to tend Harlem had ended, Bastian augmented his income by tending gentlemen’s grounds & gardens. Just as many of his European colleagues did, Bastian offered a full range of services to the mid-Atlantic gardening public, from designing to planting to “repairing.”




The most successful nursery business in the late 18C Maryland was operated by an Englishman William Booth and, after his death, his wife, Margaret. They began the business around 1793, with the sale of imported seed at two locations. Booth advertised in a Baltimore newspaper in April of 1793, that he was lodging at the home of Thorowgood Smith, Esq., in downtown Baltimore, & offering garden seeds imported from London. His second location was at Bowley’s Wharf, at the harbor, where local shopkeepers acted as his agent.

By May of 1794, Booth had accumulated enough capital to lease a house, & he moved next to one of the town’s best-known citizens, Dr. James McHenry. Although Booth did not locate near one of the town’s busy farmers’ markets, the house was just a half-mile west of Baltimore town, & his choice of location was a clever one. The popular McHenry had been George Washington’s surgeon during the Revolution & was instrumental in developing the Constitution afterwards, so travelers & neighbors often stopped to pay their respects to him. In fact, the sociable McHenry organized regular fox hunts from his grounds into the surrounding countryside.


Initially Booth sold only seeds, which he imported from London. He worked tirelessly on the grounds & his stick during the summer, fall, & winter of 1794 & by spring of 1795, was ready for broader ventures. He placed a large notice in a local newspaper informing the public of his intention to establish a permanent nursery & seed shop on his premises adjoining the property of McHenry, with whom he had negotiated a long-term lease.




McHenry’s land & now Booth’s new shop & home were located on the road leading to the “Federal City” & to busy Frederick town. Also, access by road to the traditional Annapolis market was easier from the south side of Baltimore than from the north of the water-bound east side.

Booth had leased not only the land but also McHenry’s greenhouse & had bought all of McHenry’s hothouse plants, which he decided to offer for sale in pots. The surgeon had raised plants for medicinal use as well as botanical interest.


Nurseryman Booth had a grand design for these potted plants, & he advertised it in a Baltimore newspaper. He proposed that he ladies of the town & its environs ornament their interiors with these & other potted plants during the summer months, return them to Booth for care over the winter (for a slight fee), & receive them the following spring in “full perfection.” He had not only come up with an ingenious method for continuing to gain income from the pants after selling them, he planned to expand his clientele by appealing to the ladies & suggesting that they use plants to decorate the interiors of their homes, traditionally the real of women.

During this same period, Grant Thorburn (1773-1863), a New York store owner who would become a famous Atlantic coast seed dealer, was drawn less intentionally into the world of ladies & plants. Thorburn was born near Dalkeith, Scotland, and was employed as a nailmaker there; before he sailed for America at age 21. Thorburn arrived in New York in 1794. He sold novelties and hardware at his little store in New York City, but the he discovered that his flower pots sold better when they were painted and with flowers in them.


Until 1801, he had operated his small hardware store, where he also sold flower pots. “About this time,” he later wrote, “the ladies…were beginning to shrew their taste for flowers.” To make his pots more attractive, he painted some green & set them in a window. They were so popular that the following spring he added geraniums to his green pots, & from that point on he gave up the grocery business to become a seed & plant merchant. Thorburn began selling seeds in 1805. The G. Thorburn & Son’s catalog of 1822 was issued in pamphlet form and included illustrations. Thorburn died in New Haven, Connecticut on January 21, 1863.




Serendipity played less of a role in William Booth’s promotion of garden enterprises. Booth’s capitalistic brain had been working relentlessly during the winter of 1794-95. That spring he simultaneously announced a plan to carry on a kitchen garden business that would supply specific customers with fresh vegetables of their choice by the week, month, or year. The concept of planting pre-chosen vegetables to supply produce on a contractual basis to his clients was an inspired version of the traditional truck farming of the region. It was Booth’s clever attempt to control both his supply & demand. Booth continued his original line of business, selling seeds he imported from London, as he launched his nursery, greenhouse, & kitchen garden ventures in 1795.

Booth was soon the most successful professional gardener in Maryland. His training in Britain had been sound. The visiting English agriculturalist, Richard Parkinson, reported that booth had been a gardener for the Duke of Leeds before his arrival in America. 
In addition to his many other gardening pursuits, William Booth designed & planted some of Baltimore’s most famous gardens, including the terraced falls at Hampton & those at Solomon Birckhead’s Mount Royal.

Booth’s 1801 seed & plant catalogue is the earliest one remaining from the period in Maryland & lists hundreds of plants for the kitchen garden, sweet herbs, medicinal (“physical”) plants, “seeds to improve the lands,” fruit trees, annual flowers, biennial & perennial flowers, “herbaceous plants,” bulbous roots, forest trees, flower shrubs, evergreens, greenhouse, & “stove plants,” including “a great variety of new & elegant sorts.”


Nineteenth-century Maryland historians claimed that William Booth was among “the earliest botanists, florists, & seedsmen in the United States” & that “his own grounds. . . Were celebrated for the care & exquisite cultivation with which they were kept.” Booth’s nursery was depicted on the 1801 Warner and Hanna Map of Baltimore. When Booth died in 1818, his inventory recorded a diverse stock, which were being made available to the Baltimore public at his seed store & at his 5-acre nursery. His widow, Margaret Booth, continued to operate the seed store & nursery through the 1820s.



English immigrant Booth’s attempts to appeal to a broader market were apparently successful. In September of 1799 he advertised to the public a huge collection of “rare exotic” plants, raised in a greenhouse in cooperation with other seed & plant dealers in Philadelphia & New York. The advertisement also linked the name ofWilliam Booth with some of his well-known Atlantic seaboard colleagues, David & Cuthbert Landreth in Philadelphia & David Williamson in New York, who were acting cooperatively as agents for the sale of this large collection. Also arriving in Philadelphia at the turn of the century was Bernard M’Mahon, the most important of the early 19C seed & plant dealers and garden authors.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Time to Plant Corn in North Dakota - The company's success was the direct result of gifts of seed from near-by Native Americans



Oscar H Will published his 1st mail-order catalog in 1884 at Bismarck, Dakota Territory, 3 years after he arrived there to run Major Edward M. Fuller's greenhouse, garden & floral shop. It was a modest, black-&-white piece with relatively few pages, & a circulation of about 1,000. He offered trees, shrubs, flower & vegetable seed, cut flowers, fresh vegetables in season, & he continued to call the company the Bismarck Greenhouses & Nursery, the name Fuller chose when it was established in 1881.

Within a few years, the company's name was changed to Oscar H. Will & Co. to reflect a brief partnership, & shortly after, the moniker "Pioneer Seed House of the Northwest" appeared on catalog covers along with the registered trademark "Will's Pioneer Brand." By the early 1900s, the catalog had grown in size & circulation, reaching as far as Russia, South Africa & Colombia. The larger catalog featured a color cover & was more agriculturally oriented, focusing especially on field corn, & later hybrid field corn. At its peak, Will & Co.'s catalog grew to more than 80 pages & had a circulation of about half a million.

Will & Co.'s catalogs chronicled early corn variety development & hybridization in the northern plains, & the agricultural contributions of Native American farmers who successfully worked that land long before European contact. Oscar & his son, George, were keenly aware of the skill of Native farmers in both seed selection & growing practices, & much of the company's ongoing success was the direct result of gifts of seed from Native American friends. For example, Will & Co.'s most famous introduction, the Great Northern bean, was selected from a leather pouch of seed given to Oscar in 1883 by Son of Star (Son of a Star in some references), a Hidatsa man living at the Ft. Berthold Reservation.

Although Oscar was generous in crediting his Native American friends for their gifts of seed, most of his early catalog covers were fairly traditional for the time, adorned with fantastical floral or vegetable still-life images. This was not the case later in the company's history, as George became more influential, taking control of the company on his father's death in 1917. George was a passionate student of the Mandan, Arikara & Hidatsa people, all of who farmed along the upper reaches of the Missouri River before Oscar arrived in the territory.

The cover of the 1911 catalog was the 1st to formally celebrate the Native American connection. Two panels commemorated the 1882 gift of "Squaw" corn to Oscar by Native American farmers as the basis for then modern varieties. Oscar developed two important & long-lasting varieties of field corn known as Dakota White Flint & Gehu Flint from that initial gift of multi-colored corn; both were still listed in the 1959 catalog.

In 1913, Will & Co.'s catalog cover featured a spray of flowers alongside a picture of the statue of Sakakawea on the grounds of the North Dakota State Capitol. The cover of the 1919 catalog featured a painting of a Native American woman cultivating corn with a hoe fashioned from a bison shoulder blade - the caption referred to her as a "Pioneer Agriculturist." Field corn varieties such as Will & Co.'s Gehu Yellow Flint, Will's Dakota White Flint, Northwestern Dent, Pioneer White Dent & Square Deal Dent were also featured on the 1919 cover. By this time, the company offered a "Pioneer Indian Collection" of garden seed that included, among other items, Mandan Squash, a couple varieties of Native American corn, & Native American beans. Later catalogs would identify some of the varieties in the collection as Arikara Yellow bean, Hidatsa red bean, & Mandan sweet corn, to name a few.

Throughout the 1920s to the company's closing, most catalog cover images were painted by regionally known artist, poet & George's good friend, Clell G. Gannon. The covers often illustrated aspects of Native American agriculture or ritual, affirming George's genuine interest in Native American farming & culture. For example, the image on the cover of the 1937 catalog depicts a Mandan Corn Priest blessing seed corn before planting, while the cover on the 1941 catalog shows Scattered Corn, a Mandan woman, hand-shelling ear corn into a woven basket.

A Sioux man named White Crow also provided images for a few catalog covers. According to Will family legend, White Crow periodically dropped art off at the seed store in return for cash loans. More often than not, the loans became sales, & George at one time had quite a collection of White Crow's works. Will & Co.'s 1945 catalog featured White Crow's beautiful painting of a Mandan village with three women working beneath the drying scaffold, preparing corn & other produce for winter storage.

During World War II, catalog covers continued to feature Native American themes on the front, but the backs offered patriotic sentiments. The 1942 catalog featured Will's Defense Garden Collection on the back cover. The catalogs for 1943 & 1944 featured Will's Victory Garden Collection, & in 1945, the space was again devoted to Will's Pioneer Home Garden Collection.

In 1950, the Native American gift of corn was again commemorated in Gannon's cover painting depicting a head-dress-clad man handing over bundles of red & yellow corn to two buckskin-clad "pioneers" sporting animal skin caps & carrying flintlock rifles. Beneath the painting, the cover also featured a photograph of the then-oldest living Mandan corn grower by the name of Crow's Heart, alongside a photo of ears of Will & Co.'s own Pioneer Hybrid N field corn.

When George died in 1955, his eldest son, George F. Will Jr., took over the business. George Jr. continued the tradition of using Gannon's artwork for catalog covers. Gannon's painting for 1956 consisted of two panels - one showing the company's trademark oxen-drawn prairie schooner with the words "Will's Pioneer Brand" & the other a modern farmstead complete with house, barn & silo. Inset beneath the painting was the image of an ear of "Native Indian Corn" on the left & a "Modern Northern Plains Hybrid" on the right.

The final Oscar H. Will & Co. catalog, mailed to customers in 1959, gave no indication that the company's private stockholders had decided to liquidate. In his letter to customers, George Jr. wrote of the company's move to a modern, efficient & fireproof building with excellent access to rail & truck loading.

Although the Will family saved some representative artifacts of the business, many early records & other items were destroyed in an 1898 fire. However, the company was large enough, & had enough of an impact, that letterhead, postcards, seed packets, pesticide containers, thermometers, cloth seed & feed sacks have survived. Many of these items point to other ventures that were part of Oscar H. Will & Co.

Will & Co. did substantial early business supplying trees for homesteaders who had filed tree-claims. One tree contract tendered before the turn of the century was for 800,000 tree seedlings to be delivered to Crookston, Minn. The Northern Pacific railroad in North Dakota also contracted with the company for two million trees to be planted along the tracks between Jamestown & Mandan as a living snow fence, a task reputed to have taken from 1898 to 1901 to complete. Large tree orders were later delivered to the Canadian government & U.S. National Park Service. Certainly, many of the older trees still growing in shelterbelts in the Northern Plains are the result of Oscar's efforts.

The company was also a dealer for a number of seeders, planters, cultivators, fanning mills & many other pieces of agricultural equipment. Back pages of the catalog were devoted to Clipper brand seed cleaners manufactured by A.T. Ferrell & Co., Hudson brand spraying, planting & cultivating equipment, & Cyclone brand seeders & poultry equipment. For the livestock producer, the company offered a number of specialty feeds, minerals & milk replacer, some of which were manufactured in-house. Cotton feed sacks bearing Will's Pioneer Brand have survived alongside cloth seed sacks to this day.

During the Great Depression, George, encouraged by a couple of employees, adapted a coffee roaster for use in roasting sunflower seeds. The salty confection, then known as "Russian peanuts," was a favorite of the immigrants who inhabited the German-Russian towns around Bismarck. According to George Jr., his dad test-marketed the seeds through the Bismarck Bakery for a year, & quickly expanded to other venues. Will & Co.'s sunflower seed envelopes are often found in collections of seed company ephemera.

Whether it was improving the quality of life in early northern prairie communities by providing trees for shade & shelter from the wind; shrubs, lawns & flowers for general beautification; fruit trees, vegetable seeds & plants for fresh produce - or the introduction of many varieties of hardy & short-seasoned grains that made regional dry-land farming a viable enterprise, Oscar & his company played a significant role in opening up the Northern Plains to settlement.

When the Oscar H. Will & Co. was liquidated in 1959, the Farmer Seed & Nursery Co. of Faribault, Minn., bought Will's mailing list. The company's seed-rack business was sold to Ferry-Morse of Detroit, Mich., & the Pioneer Hybrid Seed Corn Co. of Des Moines, Iowa, became the new owners of the name Pioneer Brand. Later, the nursery's acreage was developed & now sits beneath the Kirkwood Mall of Bismarck. George Jr. bought the sunflower seed business, & in 1960, offered a limited seed catalog under the name Will's Bismarck Seed House. This division of Will's Incorporated continued to operate into the late 1960s, at which point, the sunflower seed business demanded all of George Jr.'s attention. Will's trademarked Sunnuts & Sunseeds were distributed nationwide with warehouses in North Dakota, California & New Jersey until 1979 when George Jr. finally retired - nearly 100 years after his grandfather Oscar had arrived at Bismarck, Dakota Territory.