Art of Botanical Illustration
Nursery and Seed
NURSERY SAMPLE BOOKS
sample books were traveling salesmen's books put together from individual
plates to show farmers and gardeners what a particular nursery had for
sale that season. They were published from the late 1850s until the 1870s
primarily in Rochester, New York. These pictures were idealized visions
of fruits and flowers to tempt the buyer in the same way modern catalogs
arrive in gardeners' homes during the bleak days of winter.
of techniques were used in making these plates. Some of the earliest were
individually done watercolor paintings. Others are theorem paintings made
with stencils with the details added by hand. Other plates had the outlines
faintly lithographed or engraved then filled in with watercolor. At the
end of the nineteenth century, all of these processes were replaced by
color lithographs and photographic reproduction; but by this time, this
method of door-to-door sales was becoming obsolete.
the technique varied, the design of the plates were always simple and
colorful. The style was reminiscent of American folk art--flat areas of
bright primary colors with little depth or shading, against a plain background.
Very few of the artists who drew these plates can be identified. Many,
in fact, were not professional artists at all, but local women copying
printed pictures or coloring in pre-made designs.
The Colored Fruit Book, for the Use of Nurserymen, containing accurate
specimens of colored fruits and flowers, carefully drawn and colored from
nature, and designed to represent a medium and fair size of each particular
fruit... Rochester, N.Y.: D. M. Dewey, 1859.
and G. Prestele.
A Selection of Fruits of America. Iowa County, Iowa: Amana
Prestele (1796-1867), a Bavarian botanical illustrator and lithographer,
moved to America as part of a religious community that founded the
utopian settlement at Amana in Iowa. Assisted by his son Gottlieb,
Joseph Prestele produced hundreds of plates illustrating the fruits
and vegetables for sale by the nurserymen of the Community. Virtually
unknown as an artist for over a hundred years, Prestele has recently
been recognized as one of the foremost practitioners of American
botanical illustration in the nineteenth century.
The Specimen Book of Fruits, Flowers and Ornamental Trees. Carefully
drawn and colored from nature, for the use of nurserymen. Rochester,
N.Y.: D. M. Dewey [circa 1875].
Dewey (1819-1889), a Rochester bookseller and publisher, developed
and promoted the nurserymen's color plte business in the late 1850s.
At its height, in the early 1880s, the Company had one hundred to
two hundred thousand plates on hand, representing twenty-four hundred
varieties of fruits, flowers, and trees.
Mrs. J. A.
Van de Mark.
Colored Fruits and Flowers for the Use of Nurserymen and Amateurs,
published by Mrs. J. A. Van de Mark, French artist. Rocherster,
N.Y.: Stump & Southworth, job printers, 1868.
Van De Mark was listed in the Rochester city directories during
the 1860s as an artist and painter. By 1869, she was specifically
listed as a fruit and flower artist. The plates in this book were
done by a number of companies including D. W. Sargent, Darrow, and
Dewey. This image is an example of theorum painting, stenciled with
additional painting by hand.
Nurserymen's Colored Fruit Book. Rochester, N.Y., circa 1870.
most plates are unsigned, this image is signed by Max Rosenthal,
a well-known artist and lithographer famous for his works on the
Lithograph Corporation, Rochester, N.Y.
Zinnea. Watercolor painting on paper for commercial seed
packet illustration, circa 1930-1940.
Stecher Lithographic Company developed from a printing company established
in Rochester in 1865. In the 1890s, as the demand for nurserymen's
catalogs declined, the company began producing lithographed orange
box labels for companies in California. The printing firm still
exists today as Stecher-Traung-Schmidt Company of Detroit.
In the late 1840s,
seed companies added black-and-white illustrations to their trade catalogs.
The first color illustration may have appeared in James Vick's catalog
of 1864. Soon after the Civil War, brightly colored chromolithographed
images were regular features of the seed catalog. While these illustrations
were not as dramatic as those in the sample books, they were well designed
and colorful. Because the seed catalogs were cheaper to produce in quantity,
by the 1880s they began to replace the individually compiled and bound
The period between
the 1880s and the First World War are considered the golden era of seed
catalog art. The lithographed images became more elaborate and better
designed. Unfortunately, the artists who worked on the images generally
remain undocumented. By the 1920s, photography had almost entirely replaced
the artist-drawn plates. While the photographic images were more realistic
and cheaper to produce, they lack the individuality of the hand-done illustrations.
& Conard Company.
Our New Guide to Rose Culture 1901. West Grove, Pa.: Dingee
& Conard Co., 1901.
The Dingee & Conard Company began nursery operations in West Grove,
Pennsylvania in 1868 and began its mail order business in 1874. It
later became the Conard-Pyle Company, a mail-order nursery and seed
business specializing in roses. It became known for its trademarked
"Star Roses," which includes the famous Peace Rose. The
Company, which is still in business, donated its archives to the University
of Delaware Library.
Floral Guide 1888. Rochester, N. Y.: James Vick, 1888.
Vick combined a love of flowers with a phenomenal zeal in promoting
their sale. He boasted that his seeds came from the best growers
in France, Germany, and England. He, like many of his competitors,
provided much information on plant culture, offered discounts for
group purchases, and sent orders postpaid. By the 1870s, he claimed
a mailing list of over two hundred thousand people. Vick also sold
versions of his illustrations as decorative pieces. He advertised
his "floral chromos" in the seed catalogs and stated that he had
sold hundreds of thousands of them.
illustration was painted by John Walton (1834-1914). Walton was
born and educated in England and worked for a sign painter before
working for Vick. He
also produced other types of advertising material such as book covers
and show bills.
Stark Year Book for 1910.
Louisiana, Missouri: Stark Brothers Nurseries & Orchards Co.
Stark settled in Louisiana, Missouri in 1816. He produced the first
cultivated apples west of the Alleghennies. The Stark Company catalogs
of the early twentieth century were clearly influenced by the Arts
& Crafts Movement designs of magazines such as The Craftsman.
Seeds For Spring Seeding 1902.
Philadelphia: David Landreth & Sons, 1902.
was America's first producer of seeds. Established in 1784, his
nursery helped popularize vegetables such as cauliflower, eggplant,
and cantaloupe. He also offered the first collection of camellias
and rhododendrons to the United States. His son moved the farm to
Bloomsdale, Bristol, Pennsylvania in 1847. There Landreth established
what has been stated to be at that time the most complete seed-farm
Breck & Sons.
Annual Descriptive Catalogue of Seeds &c. Boston: 1883.
established his Massachusetts seed firm in 1818. He was an early
leader in gardening publishing, producing the New England Farmer,
Horticultural Register and Gardens and a popular book on flower
cultivation, The Flower Garden. The artist of the image is
unidentified but the lithographer is identified on the plates as
Cosack & Co. Buffalo and Chicago.
Garden Book 1912. Philadelphia: Henry W. Dreer, 1912.
Henry A. Dreer,
son of a German cabinet maker, founded his florist and seed business
in Philadelphia in 1838. A rare example of a signed illustration,
this image was done by Alois Lunzer, an Austrian-born watercolor
painter born in 1840.
Ueki Kabushiki Kaisha.
Japan. Yokohama, Japan: The firm, 1922.
Lilies of Japan
is a trade catalog of plants cultivated for the western market. The twenty-nine
plates are colored by hand.
Gift of the University
of Delaware Library Associates.
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Last modified: 12/21/10