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Fresh from the Garden:

Seed Catalogs in Special Collections

an Exhibition

August 1, 2011 - August 31, 2011

curated by
Laurie Rizzo

American nursery businesses began using illustrations in their sales catalogs or seed catalogs in the late 1840s.  As illustration processes developed the images in the catalogs became more exquisite and colorful.  Seed catalogs provide valuable information about the history of horticulture, botany, agribusiness, gardening, and advertising, as well as graphic design.  Additionally seed catalogs document the social history of the changing trends in gardening and farming.

The illustrations on the covers of the seed catalogs on display were created using a process called chromolithography, a method of color printing which began around 1837, although not widely used until around the 1880s.  Lithography, its precursor, is based on the chemical repellence of oil and water.  Designs are drawn or painted with greasy ink or crayons on specially prepared smooth limestone.  The stone is moistened with water, which the stone accepts in areas not covered by the crayon.  An oily ink, applied with a roller, adheres only to the drawing and is repelled by the wet parts of the stone.  The print is then made by pressing paper against the inked drawing.  Chromolithography uses multiple stones, each inked with a different color, pressed onto the same sheet of paper to create a multicolor image.

Special Collections' holdings in seed catalogs comprise the serial publications of over 700 American and European seed houses and nurseries from the late eighteenth century to the present, with a concentration in the years between 1870 and 1930.  These catalogs are just one part of Special Collections outstanding historical horticulture collection.

Briggs & Bro's

Briggs and Bro's Quarterly: Floral Work for 1875. Rochester, NY: C.F. Muntz & Co Lith, 1875.

Wood & Stubbs, Seedsman.

Descriptive Catalog of High Grade Seeds. Louisville, KY: Cor. Brook & Jefferson STS., 1900.

Price & Reed, Seedsmen.

Flower, Field and Garden Seeds. Albany, NY. 1888.

Price & Reed, Seedsmen.

Annual Catalog. Albany, NY. 1890.

Price & Reed, Seedsmen.

Annual Catalog. Albany, NY. 1892.

The Geo. H. Mellen Co.

Three of the Best Springfield, OH, 1904.

The Geo. H. Mellen Co.

Two Grand New Roses, Richmond and Etoile De France. Springfield, OH, 1907.

The Geo. H. Mellen Co.

The Famous Irish Rose, Killarney. Springfield, OH, 1911.

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