Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Shaker Seed Company 1790s-1890s

Label on wooden display box of Shaker Seeds, c 1870

The Shaker Seed Company was an American seed company that was owned & operated by the Shakers in the 18C & 19C century. In the latter part of the 18C, many Shaker communities produced several vegetable seed varieties for sale. The company created innovations in the marketing of seeds – including distributing, packaging & cataloging. The Mount Lebanon Shaker Village in New Lebanon, New York, was the most successful & the 1st to use the name Shaker Seed Company in advertising. As its stationery reveals, the company adopted the phrase "Experto crede" as its motto, noting its establishment in 1794.

In the middle of the 18C they left England & went to America, arriving in New York in August 1774. In the fall of 1776, they settled in Watervliet, New York. The 1st organized & recognized group of Shakers, it was officially established in New Lebanon, New York around 1787. By 1882 there were 16 other venues.

The Shakers proved to be avid gardeners who saved the best seeds to cultivate the following year. Joseph Turner of Watervliet assigned about 2 acres of land in 1790 for the purpose of raising vegetable seeds to sell for an income. He is the 1st known Shaker to package seeds for sale, making him the first American seed salesman. The Watervliet Shakers were the first people in the United States to sell garden seeds commercially. About this same time the Shaker community at New Lebanon began selling their surplus seeds. However, it was not until 1795, that they set aside land for the purpose of seed production for sale to outsiders. Shakers also did this at Canterbury, New Hampshire, & Hancock, Massachusetts.

At the beginning of the 19C, Shaker seed salesmen were one of the few sources of seeds for the American gardener. Seed sales was one of the Shakers' most successful enterprises, providing the greater portion of their total income. The Shaker seed business stemmed from their rural agricultural roots & sold mostly to small villages & farming communities in the northeastern United States. Their marketing techniques were state of the art. The Shaker Seed Company became known for high quality & fair prices. The Shakers provided useful things – garden seeds – at a time of need for Americans moving West & settling new frontiers.

The Shakers of New Lebanon sold their own garden seeds from 1794. Commercial sales as "a prominent industry" began in 1800. At their zenith, the Shakers of New Lebanon sold over 37,000 pounds of seeds for a value of nearly $34,000 in a 25-year period in the mid-19C. About this same time the Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire & the Enfield Shakers in Connecticut had joined the seed selling business as well with over a hundred acres dedicated just to seed production. The Mount Lebanon community was the most successful of all the Shaker communities in purveying seeds. From 1800 to 1880 the Shakers sold their seeds throughout North America, & the seeds were considered of the highest quality available. In some cases, Shaker seeds were the only seed source for rural Americans.

New Lebanon sales records show that in the decade before & after 1800 the onion seed sold the best. Shaker peddler Artemas Markham showed in his records of 1795 that over 200 pounds of onion seeds were sold. In 1800 over 44 pounds of a variety of vegetable seeds sold, including mangelwurzel blood beet, carrot, cucumber, & summer squash, begetting $406 in income. Vegetables seeds were the main offering; however, flowers, herbs, & grasses also were available. The height of the Shaker seed business was in 1840, constituting at that point their chief industry.

The Shaker Seed Company of New Lebanon listed just over a dozen varieties of seeds in their early years. By 1873 they were offering 8 different kinds of tomato, 7 kinds of turnip, 6 kinds of lettuce, 9 kinds of squash, 11 kinds of cabbage, 16 kinds of peas, & 15 kinds of beans. Their catalogs offered over a hundred kinds of seeds by 1890.

Paper envelope packaging
The Shakers are credited with developing the idea of putting seeds in small paper envelope-style packets to sell to the general public. They introduced the innovation of placing tiny seeds in small paper envelopes bearing printed planting instructions for best results as well as storage & sometimes cooking suggestions. The Shakers were the 1st to use paper envelope-style packets as a strategy to sell & distribute seeds.

The concept itself is attributed to Shakers Josiah Holmes & Jonathan Holmes of the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village. Before the development of the paper packets of seeds, the only way seeds were sold was in bulk in cloth sacks. The first seed envelope packets were made with plain brown paper with the seed variety name, where the seeds came from, & sometimes the grower's name. The 1st paper packets were pieces of paper cut into 8 different sizes for the different seed types. The small paper envelopes were made by hand & folded & glued accordingly. Ebenezer Alden invented a printing block device for printing the envelopes by hand.

Specific machines were made early in the 19C to speed the process of cutting & printing the packets. New Lebanon Shaker journals referred to the seed packet sizes as: pound-bag size, bean size, beet size, onion size, cucumber size, cucumber long size, radish size, & lettuce size. The small paper envelope packets filled with seeds were boxed in colorful wooden displays made by the Shakers & marketed throughout the United States in the 19C.

General stores throughout the United States displayed these wooden boxes with various seed envelope packet "papers" – as the Shakers called them. A typical box would hold 200 envelope packets that sold for 5 or 6 cents apiece. Shaker vendors had routes throughout the nation, many times a long distance from their home, but concentrated in the northeastern United States. Typically, the Shaker peddlers would deposit the wooden boxes of seed packet "papers" to the general stores in the spring on consignment & then in the fall gather them back up with their share of sales. Another method of distribution of the Shaker seeds was through mail-order. The Shaker Seed Company at New Lebanon was the most industrious of all the Shaker communities for producing seeds. The seed envelopes they made between 1846 & 1870 averaged over a hundred thousand packets per year.

The Shaker philosophy encouraged excellence throughout their business practices, which was integral to their success. It also worked against them, as they ignored then outside competitors who, with different commercial philosophies, competed based mainly on price. Improved cheaper transportation methods opened the rural markets to the city commercial seed vendors, & competition then came about. The Shakers were unwilling to compete on price with the cheaper commercial dealerships. Their seed business deteriorated in the long run because of this. In 1790, when the New Lebanon Shaker community developed their seed business, the population in the United States was just under 4 million. When nearly a century later the Shaker Seed Company ceased to exist as a seed business around 1890, the population of the nation was about 52 million.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Livingston's Seed Catalog from Des Moines, Iowa

Alexander W. Livingston was born on October 14, 1822, near Reynoldsburg, Ohio. He grew up on his family's farm & received limited schooling. He could read & write & do simple math problems. While still a child, Livingston showed an interest in seeds & plants, & many Reynoldsburg residents viewed him as an authority on these subjects. Upon reaching adulthood, Livingston married Matilda Dickey Graham. The couple had 10 children. In 1852, Livingston purchased 70 acres of land near Reynoldsburg. Here he developed A.W. Livingston Buckeye Seed Gardens, a seed business. His business quickly prospered. At this time, Livingston began to try to improve the tomato. He succeeded in doing so in 1870. Livingston spent two decades breeding his "Paragon" tomato. Tomatoes existed before Livingston, but they were small fruits with a sour taste. Livingston's Paragon was much larger & had a sweeter taste. Over the next 28 years, Livingston developed more than 30 other varieties of tomatoes. His work helped to make tomatoes more popular with American cooks. A scientist until the end of his life, Livingston died in 1898.
1822 - Founder Alexander W Livingston b in Reynoldsburg, OH 
1842 - Begins working for a local seed grower. 
1844 - Marries and leases land to begin farming.
1852 - Purchases his own land for a farm & seed business. 
1856 - Purchases 400 boxes of the Buckeye Garden Seed Company from Robert Robertson who was moving to Iowa.  During the late 1850s and early 1860s, business does well; and Livingston is able to expand his farming and seed operations. 
1864-65 - Builds a family home and consolidates seed and farming operations in one location. 
1875-76 - The Buckeye Garden Seed Company went bankrupt in the economic crash that affected many businesses in the nation. The business is dissolved and new entity formed by son Robert and named, "A. W. Livingston's Sons." Marketing was expanded using seed catalogs and advertising in newspapers and magazines. 
1880 - The company moves from Reynoldsburg to Columbus, Ohio. Alexander moves to Des Moines, Iowa after purchasing the farm of his friend Robert Robertson. Alexander's plan was to relocate the entire company to Iowa, but the business was prospering in Columbus under his son's management. 
1890 - After Alexander's wife passes away, he turned over the Iowa seed business to his son, Josiah. He returned to Ohio and began to work on his book, "Livingston and the Tomato." It was part autobiographical, part instructional, and part agricultural history. It combined information about Livingston's methods, the history of the tomato as a food crop, and even contained a large selection of compiled recipes. 
1898 - The company is incorporated as the Livingston Seed Company. Founder, A. W. Livingston passes away. 
1919 - The Livingstons were big players in the seed trade industry interacting with many major seed houses. They had their own grow outs as well as 'traded' stock. On April 1st, 1919, a fire broke out at one of their warehouses destroying everything. The McCullough's Sons Seed Company from Cincinnati, took the train up to Columbus the next day, gathered up what they could, and filled orders for the Livingstons. Even with their help, Livingstons still was forced to send out a form letter returning orders along with money.  
1930s - By the late 1930s, the seed industry had begun to change. The company survived by moving into field seeds, and dropped tomatoes from their line. 1937 - The United States Department of Agriculture's "Yearbook of Agriculture" for the year 1937 published the following short history: "The work of A. W. Livingston, of Columbus, Ohio, and his associates and successors in the Livingston Seed Co. has resulted in the introduction of more new varieties than that of any other private group. Most of the varieties introduced by the Livingstons were of their own finding or origination, but some were obtained from other growers. Paragon, from a chance seedling, was their first introduction (1870). The famous old variety Acme was developed by A. W. Livingston from a single superior plant found in a field of mixed stock and introduced in 1875. Like the Trophy, this variety was the source or served as one parent of many subsequently introduced varieties. In 1880 Perfection, a chance variant in Acme, was introduced. Livingston next brought out Golden Queen in 1882, Favorite in 1883, Beauty in 1886, Potato Leaf in 1887, Stone in 1889, and Royal Red in 1892. This last was developed from seven similar plants found in a field of Dwarf Champion by M. M. Miesse. The others just named were chance seedlings occurring in varieties the names of which are not known. These were followed by Aristocrat and Buckeye State in 1893, Honor Bright in 1897, and Magnus in 1900, as chance seedlings in varieties not recorded. In 1903 Dwarf Stone was introduced; it was a chance seedling found in Stone. Globe is from a cross between Stone and Ponderosa made about 1899 by Robert Livingston and was introduced in 1905. Hummer, another introduction, was selected out of Paragon. Of this impressive list introduced by the Livingstons, Stone and Globe are among the most important varieties grown today. Acme, Beauty, Buckeye State, Dwarf Stone, Golden Queen, and Perfection are still listed by some seed producers although they are not extensively grown." "With all due credit to the important contributions of other growers, seedsmen, and investigators, it is not out of place to call attention again to the great contribution of the Livingston Seed Co. to tomato improvement. Of about 40 varieties that had attained a distinct status prior to 1910, a third were productions or introductions by the Livingston company. If we add those varieties derived directly from Livingston productions and introductions, it appears that half of the major varieties were due to the abilities of the Livingstons to evaluate and perpetuate superior material in the tomato." 
1947 - The last wholesale catalog was produced. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Feminist Seed Dealer - Carrie H. Lippincott

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1891

The C. H. Lippincott Seed Company was the 1st seed company in the United States to be founded and managed by a woman, Carrie H. Lippincott (1863-1941) .  Carrie Lippincott had been born in in the middle of the Civil War in Burlington, New Jersey, in September of 1863.  Her father was Joseph P Lippincott, a tailor and merchant, born in New Jersey in 1821.  When he was 27 in 1848, he married Martha Abigail H Moore, who also was born New Jersey in June of 1829.  

Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1893

Carrie Lippincott was the youngest of their children and was still living at home with her parents in 1880.  By 1888, the Minneapolis City Directory showed Carrie living at 305 South 11th Street in Minneapolis.  When her father died, Carrie, her mother, her sister, and her brother-in-law moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota.

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1896

The unmarried Carrie Lippincott opened her flower seed business in Minneapolis in 1896, when she was 33 years old.  The seed business blossomed and was housed in a 2-story brick building next to the home she shared with her older sister Rebecca (1849-1944) and her husband Henry B. Kent (1852-1935) and their teenage daughter Florence (1883-1980) and with the Lippincott girls' widowed mother Martha at 319 and 323 Sixth Street South, in Minneapolis.  Sister Rebecca Lippincott had married Henry B Kent in 1878 in Bloomfield, Essex County, New Jersey. Henry was a carpenter in Bloomfield in 1880.

The Lippincott sisters lived here with the brother-in-law, teenage neice, and widowed mother

Apparently, Carrie Lippincott issued her 1st seed mail catalog in January of 1896.  She also advertised in the local Minneapolis Journal for several years.  From March through April, 1896, Miss C H Lippincott advertised nasturtiums, sweet peas, and lawn grass for sale at her seed store in the Minneapolis Journal.  She also advertised, "The most magnificent catalogue free on application." Several of her ads boasted, that she had "The Best Flower Seeds." 

Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1896  This catalog seems to connect the Chinese Primroses for sale to a celebration of the immigration into America of the late 19C.

An article in the October 19,1896 Minneapolis Journal reported that, "When Miss C H Lippincott, the florist, issued her 1896 catlogue of flower seeds last January, she offered $200 in cash prizes for the largest blossoms raised from the seed of her "Royal Show Pansies," to be divided into twent prizes.  This was the largest sum of money ever offered in a similar contest."  The contest drew 5,000 pansies submitted by 750 competitors from across the nation. The article concluded, "The contestants represented nearly every state in the union and demonstrated to Miss Lippincott that advertising pays when intelligently done."

Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1898

Carrie continued to place ads in the local paper.  The following year on April to May, she advertised sweet peas and nasturtiums along with a supply of lawn grass. for sale in the same local Minneapolis newspaper. 

Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1898

Carrie Lippincott apparently was a woman who liked to be in control and who feared little.  She made the local newspaper again on Monday, April 5, 1897, when a man was bound over to court for burglary.  He was identified by Miss Carrie Lippincott as the man with whom she had a tussle in the hall of her brother-in-law's house on Sixth Street.  Police noted that man had several prior charges of burglary and blowing up safes in Minneapolis.

Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1899  This catalog is intriguing because of it blatant orientalism.  The Orient, including present-day Turkey, Greece, the Middle East, and North Africa, exerted its allure on many Western artist's imagination in the 19C.  Harem scenes evoked a sense of cultivated beauty and pampered isolation to which many Westerners aspired.

In 1891, Carrie Lippincott began calling herself  “The Pioneer Seedswoman of America.”  Unique among seed companies, she specialized in flower seeds, and targeted female clientele.  Her greatest contribution to the seed trade industry was her gift for marketing. In the 1880’s, most seed packets from most seedhouses looked the same. The packets were printed on medium bond manilla paper with the text in black ink, perhaps with a little color on the vegetable or flower illustration. The farm-oriented catalogs appeared with big 8x10 illustrations featuring fruits and vegetables on their covers and in interior illustrations.  Lippencott's seed catalogs and advertisements revolutionized how garden seeds were sold. Her catalogs featured images of children, women and flowers giving her an edge with women customers among her competition. 

Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1899.  This catalog is particularly interesting because of the use of Japonisme.  The French term Japonisme, 1st used in 1872, refers to the influence of Japanese art, culture, and aesthetics, which occurred in Europe andAmerica after the 1848-1854 period, when after more than 200 years of seclusion, foreign merchant ships of various nationalities again began to visit and trade with Japan.

A quote from one contemporary publication said “the key to her success is prompt service, best seeds, reasonable prices, beautiful flowers, by a woman.”  Contemporary accounts of her business highlight that her 25 seed order clerks were women and that she often employed housewives to grow out seed stock on their farms and backyard gardens.  In 1894, she adopted the practice of listing the number of seeds per-packet, so her customers could plan their gardens beds more accurately.  By 1896, Carrie's business claimed to have received 150,000 orders.

Among her employees were Samuel Y. Haines (1853-) and his young wife Charlotte.  When Sam Haines had applied for a passport in 1895, he stated, that his occupation was seedsman.  By July 1896, Sam Haines, whose family had also come from Burlington, New Jersey and married into the Lippincott family there, was a full-time employee handling the advertising, which was the core of her success.  

An interview with Carrie Lippincott and Haines in the July 8, 1896, issue of Printers' Ink, a journal for advertisers, paints a picture of a woman deeply involved in the operations of her business, so much so that all pieces of mail have to be opened before her eyes.  "She is the original pioneer seedswoman - a real woman, arranging all the details of a large business herself."  

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1899

Once again on April 20 and 27, 1900, she advertised in the Minneapolis Journal, admonishing her clients that was "time to give your lawn attention."  She was still selling lawn grass seed, sweet peas, and naturtiums at her store.  

By 1900, the entire family was working in Carrie's seed enterprise. Working with her mother and sister and brother-in-law, she created a thriving trade based on hard work and her shrewd sense of marketing. Her 5-inch by 7-inch catalogs were colorful sales tools infused with Carrie's personal touch. Carrie tried to make her customers feel that they were part of her family.  In her chatty catalog greetings each mailing, she updated her customers on the doings of her family, in fact, she referred to the catalogs as annual "Greetings."  The catalogs' colorful lithographed covers, usually depicted idealized children surrounded by colorful flowers.  They looked more like the chromo lithograph greeting postcards of the day rather than typical sales catalogs.

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1901

Customers who received orders from the company found packages artfully tied with beautiful blue ribbons.  Each order contained a handwritten card which simply said, “Yours for Fine Gardening, C. H. Lippincott.”  By 1898, she owned an operated the world's largest seed house specializing in flowers and was printing a quarter of a million copies of her catalog. Competitors took note, and soon here colorful graphic designs and personalized practices were being copied by other seed sellers. 

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1902

Lippincott’s approach to marketing through her emphasis on a woman-owned company that catered to other women, led to at least 2 other seed firms in Minneapolis to conduct seed distribution business under women’s names. Their catalogs were also similar in size and used colorful graphic images.  Lippincott knew that men controlled these nearby companies, andshe was right. Her 1899 catalog stated “it is a peculiar thing in this day and age that a man should want to masquerade in woman’s clothing.” 

Jessie R. Prior's Catalog 1901

Jessie Prior's husband had operated a seed business in Minnetonka, west of Minneapolis, for 5 years, before a seed catalog using her name appeared in 1895. There was quickly talk among their competitors, that the use of Jessie's name was only a marketing gambit.  Jessie Prior's extant catalogs are silent on the gender issue. Jessie did apply for membership in the all-male American Seed Testing Association in 1903, however, only to be turned down ostensibly because she was a woman.

Miss Emma V. White, 1900 catalog

Miss Emma V. White, also of Minneapolis, apparently took up the mail-order seed trade in 1896, imitating Lippincott's catalog format. 

Miss Emma V. White, 1899 Pansies 

Actually, Emma White was listed as a boarder at the home of Alanson W Latham and his wife in 1900.  

Jessie R. Prior's Pansies Catalog 

Latham just happened to be Secretary of the Minnesota Horticultural Association.   He was so well known for his horticultural exploits, that the University of Minnesota chose him as one of 4 "Master Farmers" noting that "Mr Latham, who is secretary of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society, is known as an authority on grapes, and has been active in horticultural work."  

Jessie R. Prior's 1903 Catalog 

The cover of the White 1900 catalog had an illustration which featured an obvious imitation of Palmer Cox's popular "Brownies" characters. 

Miss Emma V. White, 1908 catalog

In the early years, the White catalog often used pixie figures to dance around the flower art in her illustrations, which differentiated them from the more straight-laced visuals of both the Priors and Carrie Lippincott. Her photo was printed in the catalogs.

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1903

Lippincott began publishing her picture in her catalog beginning in 1899, explaining that "a number of seedsmen (shall I call them men?) have assumed women's names in order to sell seeds." 
White countered a few years later with the protest, "I am a real live woman and I give personal attention to my business." 

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1904

Carrie was on the 1900 federal census with her family in Minneapolis, and on the 1905 voter list there.  The Minneapolis City Directory showed her seed business at 4410 Harriet Boulevard.  She was listed until 1909, in the city directory, as a seed dealer. 

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1905

But, by 1910, Carrie Lippincott, her sister Rebecca and her brother-in-law Harry, and her widowed mother, now 80 years old, had moved to Saint Croix, Wisconsin.  

Photographs of Lippincott's Seed Store were printed on the back Carrie Lippincott's 1914 catalog. At this time her business address was 208 Locust Street in Hudson, Wisconsin.

By 1910, Carrie replaced her brother-in-law in the census as the head of the household and owner of a seed business.  Her brother-in-law is listed as manager of the seed business.  In Wisconsin, they employed a Norwegian woman named Eda to tend house and help care for the elderly family matriarch.

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1907

Carrie's personal touch apparently appealed to her mostly female customers. In 1911, she wrote in her catalog, "I wish it were possible for me to write a personal letter to all who have written me such pleasant and encouraging letters this past year. But that is impossible for I have received hundreds of them, and I thank you all for my mother, my sister and myself…"  Her 1911 catalog was advertising seeds from their Hudson, Wisconsin, location.

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1908

The following year, Carrie Lippincott returned to Minnesota and once again was listed in the 1915-1917 Minneapolis City Directory as a seed dealer at 3149 Holmes Avenue.  

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1911

The 1920 census shows that the Lippincotts and Kents had moved back to Minneapolis permanently after the death of their elderly mother.  By this time, Carrie was still listed as the seedswoman, and Harry Kent was listed as a florist.  She appeared in the 1922 Minneapolis City Directory as a florist at 3010 Hennepin Avenue.  The 1923-1929 city directories, Carrie Lippincott was listed as a florist at 4445 Washburn Avenue South and at 3010 Hennepin Avenue.

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 

By 1930, both Carrie's sister and her husband were listed in the census with no occupation, but Carrie was still listed as the manager of the "florist" company.  In the 1934 Minneapolis City Directory, Carrie was a florist at both 3116 Hennepin Avenue and at 4145 Washburn Avenue.  In 1937-1939, Carrie was listed in the city directory at 5301 Xerxes Avenue South, but her occupation as a florist had ceased.  

Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1905

By 1940, Carrie H. Lippencott and her sister Rebecca were living in the Minneapolis Jones Harrison Home for the Aged which is 80 acres on Cedar Lake dedicated to serving the elderly at 3700 Cedar Lake Avenue.  Carrie Lippincott died there on November 4, 1941, and was buried in the Minneapolis Lakewood Cemetery.

See an article on Miss C H Lippincott by here.

See mention of Miss C H Lippincott in the Landreth Seed Company history here.

Read the 1901 Lippincott catalog here.

Read the Smithsonian Library's biography of Carrie H. Lippincott here.

David Christenson, "Old Seed Catalogs Combined Science, Marketing, andPrinting Arts"

See The Three Seedswomen here.

See the Anderson Horticultural Library at the University of Minnesota here.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Evolution of Early Plant & Seed Collectors & Catalogs

Emanuel Sweerts; edited by E. F. Bleiler, Florilegium - Early Floral Engravings. 1612

The earliest transitional seed & nursery trade catalogs have links to older herbals, books of plants made for the study of medicine & botany. Herbals were produced both to identify plants correctly in order to to treat illnesses, & also to classify the many new plants arriving in Europe from the Near East & the Americas. Starting in the late 16C, it became fashionable for nobles & wealthy aristocrats to outdo one another in amassing large collections of exotic plants. To add to the prestige of these collections, some owners had them cataloged in elaborately illustrated books called florilegia. While the classification of plants resembled that of the herbals, the florilegia emphasized plants’ ornamental rather than medicinal value.

One of the oldest surviving European plant catalog is the 1612 Florilegium by Emmanuel Sweerts, a Dutch merchant of bulbs, plants & other novelties from distant lands. Produced just over 20 years before the height of Tulipomania, it contains many tulips, as well as other bulbs & herbaceous flowering plants. Rather than being an album of Sweerts’ collection, it was an actual catalog of plants he could supply for sale. A 2nd florilegium, the Hortus Floridus published by Crispijn van de Passe in 1614, was designed as a tool that salesmen could use to show what the plants would look like in bloom. In 1621, RenĂ© Morin of Paris issued the 1st French printed plant catalog.

An increased flow of exotics from the Middle East, South Africa & the Americas appeared in England & the Early American Republic at the end of the 18C, encouraging a love of plant collecting & botany among the upper classes, as well as among tradesmen who competed & developed ideal forms of “florists’ flowers.” By the 19C, the enthusiasm for botany, flowers, & exotic plants was spreading to all levels of society. 

See: Special Collections & Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

1899 G Drobisch of Columbus, Ohio Plant Catalog

When Gustav Adolph Drobisch (1841-1910) was born in Germany; his father, Augustus (1809-1882), was 32 & his mother, Johanna Christiana Bergmann (1816–unknown), was 24. When he was 14, his family immigrated from Dresden, Germany to Buffalo, NY, in 1854. Gustav Drobisch married Margaret Schenck (1844-1920) in 1865 in Columbus City, Franklin County, Ohio, where he was identified as a florist. They had 5 children in 19 years. The Gardener's Monthly & Horticulturalist Magazine on August 1887 noted that "Mr. Drobisch is a 'true gardener,' one of the leading florists of Columbus, Ohio, who has been continuously from childhood up a gardener & florist." He was also serving on the Columbus School Board at that time. He died on July 9, 1910, in Columbus, Ohio, at the age of 69. His obituary stated that "Gustav Drobisch was one of the pioneer florists of Ohio & the oldest in Columbus, where he has been located for forty years...He was born in Saxony & came to this country when only 14 years of age. Although he was thoroughly American in his ways & beliefs, he never lost his love for the fatherland...Mr. Drobisch was of a pleasant & companionable disposition & full of interesting reminiscences of the early days of the flower business."

Friday, May 26, 2017

To Advertise, Identify, & Protect - 19C American Fruit Illustrations

This post on America's 19C nurserymen from the Smithsonian Magazine of August 2011. Yale historian Daniel J Kevles writes "How to Trademark a Fruit: To protect the fruits of their labor and thwart 'plant thieves,' early American growers enlisted artists."
Red Astrachan Apple

Kelvles' begins his story in 1847, when Charles M. Hovey, owner of a 40-acre nursery in Cambridge, Masschusetts, began distributing a series of prints of American fruits. In 1852 & 1856, Hovey published his series of prints as The Fruits of America, Volume 1 & 2. Hovey borrowed the tactic of America's 1st important 19th-century garden author (1806) Bernard M'Mahon by declaring that he felt “a national pride” in portraying the “delicious our own country, many of them surpassed by none of foreign growth,” thus demonstrating the developing “skill of our Pomologists” to the “cultivators of the world.”
William Prestele's Michaux Grape

Since the end of the American Revolution commercial seed & nursery entrepreneurs had been steadly growing in the United States. State horticultural societies began to organize at the end of the 18th-century; and in 1848, several of their leaders in the Eastern states gathered together to form the first national organization of fruit men—the American Pomological Society, named for Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits.
William Hooker's Noblesse Peach.

Fruit growers knew that if they were to protect their new varieties of fruit from appropriation by others, they had to identify them. And so a body of American botanical art began to emerge. The American Pomological Society quickly established a Committee on Synonyms and a Catalogue, hopeful, as its president said, that an authoritative voice would be “the best means of preventing those numerous impositions and frauds which, we regret to say, have been practiced upon our fellow citizens, by adventurous speculators or ignorant and unscrupulous venders.”
William Prestele's Wineberry, or Wine Raspberry

The worried fruit growers were aided in the efforts to publicize & lay claim to their varieties by the arrival in the United States in the late 1830s, of William Sharp, an English artist, immigrated to Boston with a printing technology, chromolithography, which enabled the production of multiple-colored pictures.
Some engaged an artist named Joseph Prestele, a German immigrant from Bavaria who had been a staff artist at the Royal Botanical Garden in Munich. He had been making a name for himself in the United States as a botanical illustrator of great clarity, accuracy and minuteness of detail.
Coe's Golden Gumdrop Plum

To learn of the development of these books & catalogues & the patent issues involved for both the large nursery operations & small firms as well, read Daniel J Kevles' article in the Smithsonian Magazine here.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Rochester, New York Seed Dealer James Vick 1818-1882

Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873, issued quarterly, pp. 132.

This description of his business was written by seed dealer James Vick (1818-1882) of Rochester, New York, in  pages 21-24 of Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873.

 Store Front Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873


It is acknowledged that I have the largest and best regulated retail Seed House in the world.  It is visited by thousands every year from all parts of this country, and by many from Europe, and 1 take pleasure in exhibiting everything of interest or profit to visitors.  As hundreds of thousands of my customers will probably never have the opportunity of making a personal visit, I thought a few facts and illustrations would be interesting to this large class whom 1 am anxious to please, and be, at least, an acknowledgement of a debt of gratitude for long continued confi­dence, which I can feel, but not repay.

Inside the Store Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873

Two Catalogues are issued each year, one of Bulbs in August, and on the first of December a beautiful Floral Guide:, of 130 pages, finely illustrated with hundreds of engravings of Flowers and plants and colored plates. Last year, the number printed was three hundred thousand at a cost of over sixty thousand dollars. In addition to the ordinary conveniences of a well regulated Seed House, there is connected with this establishment a Printing Office, Bindery, Box Making Establishment, and Artists’ and Engravers’ Rooms. Everything but the paper being made in the establishment.

Vick Store and Processing Center on State Street in Rochester, NY 1873 Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide 

To do this work fully occupies a building four stories in height (besides basement) sixty feet in width, and one hundred and fifty feet in length, with an addition in the upper story of a large room over an entire adjoining block.


The large basement is arranged with immense quantities of drawers, &c., for storing Bulbs.  Here, too, are stored the heavier kinds of Seeds, in sacks, &c., piled to the ceiling.  The heavier packing is also done here.


The first floor is used entirely as a sales-shop, or “store,” for the sale of Seeds, Flowers, Plants and all Garden requisites and adornments, such as baskets, vases, lawn mowers, lawn tents, aquariums, seats, &c., &c.  It is arranged with taste, and the songs of the birds, the fragrance and beauty of the flowers, make it a most delightful spot in which to spend an hour.

The Order Room Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873


On the second floor is the Business and Private Offices, and also the Mail Room in which all letters are opened. The opening of letters occupies the entire time of two persons, and they perform the work with astonishing rapidity – practice making perfect – often opening three thousand in a day.  After these letters are opened they are passed into what is called the Registering Room, on the same floor, where they are divided into States, and the name of the person ordering, and the date of the receipt of the order registered.  They are then ready to be filled, and are passed into a large room, called the Order Room, where over seventy-five hands are employed, divided into gangs, each set, or gang, to a State, half-a-dozen or more being employed on each of the larger States.  After the orders are filled, packed and directed, they are sent to what is known as the Post Office, also on the same floor, where the packages are weighed, the necessary stamps put upon them, and stamps cancelled, when they are packed in Post Office bags furnished us by Government, properly labeled for the different routes, and sent to the Postal Cars.  Tons of Seeds are thus dispatched every day during the business season.

The Packing Room Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873


Here is the German Department, where all orders written in the German language are filled by German clerks; a Catalogue in this language being published. On this floor, also, all seeds are packed, that is, weighed and measured and placed in paper bags and stored ready for sale.  About fifty persons are employed in this room, surrounded by thousands of nicely labeled drawers.


On this floor are rooms for Artists and Engravers, several of whom are kept constantly employed in designing and engraving for Catalogues and Chromos. Here, also, the lighter seed are stored.  In a large room adjoining, is the Printing Office, where the Catalogue is prepared, and other printing done, and also the Bindery, often employing forty or fifty hands, and turning out more than ten thousand Catalogues in a day. Here is in use the most improved machinery for covering, trimming, &c., propelled by steam.

The Bindery Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873


The immense amount of business done may be understood by a few facts: Nearly one hundred acres are employed, near the city, in growing flower seeds mainly, while large importations are made from Germany, France, Holland, Australia and Japan.  Over three thousand reams of printing paper are used each year for Catalogues, weighing two hundred thousand pounds, and the simple postage for sending these Catalogues by mail is thirteen thousand dollars.  Over fifty thousand dollars have been paid the Government for postage stamps last year.  Millions of bags and boxes are also manufactured in the establishment, requiring hundreds of reams of paper, and scores of tons of paste-board.  The business is so arranged that the wrappers are prepared for each State, with the name of the State conspicuously printed, thus saving a great deal of writing. as well as preventing errors.

I had prepared several other engravings of German Room, Printing Office, Artists’ Room, Counting Room, Mail Room, Post Office, &c., but have already occupied quite enough space give readers somewhat of an idea of the character of my establishment.  Another year, I may give further particulars.  James Vick

Seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)

James Vick was one of the merchants who dominated the floral nursery industry in New York in the 19C. James Vick was born in Portsmouth, England on Nov. 23, 1818.  In 1833, at the age of 12, he arrived in New York City to learn the printing trade.   By the time he moved to Rochester, he had acquired skills as a printer & writer.

In 1837, he moved with his parents to Rochester, New York, where he set type for several newspapers & journals. In 1849, James Vick was elected corresponding secretary of the Genesee Valley Horticultural Society. From 1849 through the early 1850s, Vick edited & then bought the popular journal The Genesee Farmer in 1855.  He later owned part of a workers’ journal and helped to found Frederick Douglass’s North Star.

Vick’s house in 1871

With Vick as editor, the publication became more elegant & circulation rapidly increased.  A year later he sold out to Joseph Harris.  On the death of A. J. Downing, James Vick bought "The Horticulturist" & moved it to Rochester in 1853.  For for 3 years he published this with Patrick Barry serving as Editor. It was devoted to horticulture, floriculture, landscape gardening, & rural architecture.

About this time, Vick started to grow flowers & began sending seeds out by mail to the readers of his publication.  Vick also started importing seed stock. In 1855, he established a seed store & printing house in Rochester for his growing mail order business.  In 1856, Vick started "Rural Annual and Horticultural Directory".  The first half was a seed catalog & the second a list of nurserymen.  This was taken over in 1857 by Joseph Harris who continued it until 1867.

Vick's Home on the South Side of East Avenue in Rochester, NY. 1877

With Vick’s knowledge of chromolithography & printing, he produce a catalog & later a monthly magazine.  The first, "Floral Guide and Catalogue" was printed in 1862.  His "Floral Guides" provided gardening advice, quality color prints, & reached a circulation of 250,000.  He entertained his readers with anecdotes, published letters he had received, & had a special section for children.

By the 1870s, as many as 150,000 catalogs were sent out each year.  A staff of more than 100 worked in the office & packing house.  There were over 75 acres of seed gardens scattered about the city.  In 1878, Vick started a paper, "Vick’s Illustrated Monthly" which was published by the Vick Seed Company in Rochester & in Dansville until 1909.  This magazine was sold by subscription.  Vick also printed a set of chromolithograph prints which were either sold or offered as premiums with large orders.
The Seed House of James Vick 1881 From Commerce, Manufactures & Resources of Rochester, NY

Vick was one of the most successful American horticultural seedsman, writers, & merchandisers of his day.  The Vick Seed Company continued into the 20C before being sold to the Burpee Seed Co. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Early South Carolina - Importing Experimental Plants

During the 1770s-1780s grapes were becoming a popular item in both South Carolina & Georgia, where a friendly competition was growing between the neighbors.

By the 1750s, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) had his hand in potential domestic wine production. The May 1, 1783 issue of the South Carolina Gazette in Savannah noted, “Sometime ago Dr. Franklin sent to South Carolina nine vine dressers from Burgundy, and 1,200,000 sets of plants of vines, to try whether those plants would thrive there. Our merchants do not wish they may.”
Benjamin Franklin in London, 1767, wearing a blue suit with elaborate gold braid & buttons, a far cry from the simple dress he affected at the French court in later years. Both personas seemed to be enamored with wine.

The March 1772, issue of the South Carolina Gazette
 announced, “Yesterday also arrive here, with Captain John Turner, the ship Carolina Packet, from London…30,000 plants of Vines producing true Champagne and Burgundy Grapes, procured by the Assiduity of Mr. Masnil de St. Pierre (from the French settlement at Longcanes, called now New-Bourdeaux) who has received great encouragement in London, to perfect his scheme of making wines in the province, and obtained from the Society of Arts a Gold Medal.”

On September 29, 1774 the South Carolina Gazette was carrying news of another experimental plant. Aaron Loocock (1733-1794) was promoting & selling the dying root madder. Aaron Loocock was the author of: Some observations & directions for the culture of madder; First published in 1775, & printed by Peter Timothy, 2 editions. Description of cultivation & processing of madder, a plant used in red dye. He was also a Revolutionary War Patriot. Apparently, Loocock's Medway Plantation was confiscated after the American Revolution. He took great efforts to regain his property. When he arrived in Charleston, he was detained at the Provost briefly. (See The Papers of Henry Laurens: September 1, 1782-December 17, 1792, p 333-34.) “Those Gentlemen who chose to make Trial of this valuable and profitable article may depend on not being disappointed of Plants, if they order them in Time, either delivered at my Plantation at Goose Creek, or to any of their friends at Charles-Town, at Five Pounds a Thousand. Printed directions, from experiences in this Province, will be given.”

Medway Plantation Garden Gate

Evidently Looncook’s were successful, for almost 20 years later in the June 21, 1794 issue of the Augusta Chronicle and Gazette his “printed directions” appeared under this introduction “As the soil and climate of this country is said to be well adapted to the cultivation of that valuable dying-root, Madder, and as the planting, mercantile, and manufacturing interest of the United States may be very much benefited by its cultivation: I make no doubt but that a publication of the following observations on it will be very acceptable…written 20 years ago, by a gentleman in South Carolina…”

On January 9, 1796 in the City Gazette and the Daily Advertiser, Robert Day offered for sale “To Lovers of Improvement Five to Six Hundred LOMBARDY POPLAR TREES, one year old, from 10 to 16 feet high they are the first in America of their age or kind. Also, Two Hundred PLANTS of the large purple sweet WATER GRAPE, One Box, containing Two or Three Hundred PLANTS of the large Cork ASPARAGUS, 2 years old."