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Smithsonian Institution has huge collection of historic seed catalogs


By Marca L. Woodhams,
Smithsonian Institution Libraries

The Smithsonian Institution Libraries have a unique trade catalog collection that includes about 10,000 seed and nursery catalogs dating from 1830 to the present. Many of the trade catalogs were part of the Burpee Collection donated to the Horticulture Services Division by Mrs. David Burpee in 1982. The collection includes both Burpee and their competitors’ catalogs.

The real gems of the collection date from 1830 to the 1930s and are both beautiful and important multidisciplinary historical documents. The seed trade catalogs document the history of the seed and agricultural implement business in the United States, as well as provide a history of botany and plant research such as the introduction of plant varieties into the United States. Additionally, the seed trade catalogs are a window into the history of graphic arts in advertising, and a social history, through the text and illustrations, showing changing fashions in flowers and vegetables.


Explore their web site where 258 catalogs are represented and 500 total images.

1 comment

1 Thomas McCort { 04.25.12 at 3:58 am }

I am wondering if Marca has heard of the nursery business that began in Bridgman, Michigan in 1889, which subsequently grew into a multi-million dollar industry in the early 20th century. I have written a short story on the subject, but I haven’t been able to find a way to contact Marca in order to share it with her. Can you help?
Tom McCort