THE ANTIQUE DETECTIVE
CATALOGS, LABELS OF GROWING INTEREST
By Anne Gilbert
As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, May, 2005
Cover of Burpee's Seeds Catalog, c. 1888 Photo
Credit: Anne Gilbert
Tis the season for garden catalogs to
arrive in mailboxes. For the last few years many purveyors of seed catalogs, such as
Ferry’s have been reproducing old tins as collectibles, and with good reason. The early catalog
drawings are considered works of art and the seed boxes and tin containers are being
snapped up by collectors and interior decorators.
Pages from 19th century garden catalogs
were not only handrawn, but often hand colored.
Equally colorful were the fruit labels
on wooden crates and on seed boxes. Framed and hung on a kitchen wall they are the
perfect decorative art accessory.
For the serious collectors of old
garden catalogs, such a destruction of a total catalog is sacrilege. As they see it, it’s like
cutting up a rare book and framing the pictures. As one collector told me, “it’s also destroying
garden history in the United States.” To many gardener-collectors, often the written
pages are as fascinating as the art. Many reflect the regions in which they originate. For
instance, the farm country publications used rustic, “homey” words to describe the plants.
The city-produced catalogs rely on more “hard-sell”.
Among the earliest seed companies
were Burpees Seeds(1876) and D. M.. Ferry (1880s). For their hundred year
anniversary in 1976, Burpee issued Centennial place mats, featuring color
reproductions from historic, lithographed catalog pages. Now, these are considered very collectible,
and are hard to find.
Among the rarest and most
valuable spin-off s for collectors would be books written by (and sometimes illustrated) early
19the century rare plant explorers guides. Often they contained
hand colored illustrations
detailing the discovery in exotic or jungle areas of unusual plants. Who can forget the
mission of the ship Bounty to bring back breadfruit trees! When a complete folio shows up they'd fetch thousands of dollars at auctions.
Keep your eyes open for horticultural
manuals as well as books and periodicals. H. C.. Hanson’s “The Floris and Horticultural
Journal” was published in the mid 19th century, Philadelphia, in both bound volumes and
CLUES: Not everybody appreciates garden
art and literature. There’s always a good chance of finding old almanacs printed
in German and English.
Country auctions are another
source. Since not every gardener is a collector you might even find a Breck’s of Boston Catalog,
Unfortunately, many of the small wooden boxes that show up at mall shows
have been stripped of the colorful seed advertisements that were once inside the
lids. However, garage sales can turn up handsome boxes with lid art intact.
Fruit crate labels, once easy to
but on old crates have been reproduced since the 1970s. Authentic oldies have values of
from $25 to $100 depending on age, rarity and condition.
A good source for books and labels
can also be dealers who specialize in advertising and store collectibles. Another
collecting spin-off would be advertising trade cards. For these, check out old scrapbooks, still
found at flea markets and garage sales.
Still waiting to be discovered and a
real discovery would be the Burpee catalog, 1877, with its fifty six pages intact. Only
ten thousand copies were printed.
Those have survived
would be rarities worth several hundred dollars.
If you have any questions, you can Email us at
The Antique Shoppe
"Florida's Best Newspaper for Antiques
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