Banner Image. A Short History of the Seed and Nursery Catalogue in Europe and the U.S.
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The Future of Printed Catalogues

Many changes occurred in seed and nursery catalogs between 1960 and the present that reflected a renewed popular appreciation of fresh food from the garden, an interest in international foods and old fashioned varieties of vegetables and flowers, and an increased interest in organic gardening techniques. However, the most revolutionary change that occurred at the dawn of the 21st century was the transition of seed and nursery catalogues to the world wide web.

Do printed seed and nursery catalogues have a future in the Internet age? Some companies have either discontinued their paper catalogues or issue only online catalogues. Online catalogues conserve paper, and they eliminate the substantial and ever-increasing costs of printing and mailing. Websites can forward orders directly to company warehouses, saving time and labor costs. They enable companies to edit catalogues, change prices, or offer promotions at any time via email. The proliferation of online seed and plant sellers has created more competition for traditional mail-order companies.

Though printed seed and nursery catalogues are becoming more of an endangered species, some companies still produce them. While many gardeners like the efficiency of online ordering, some still prefer to browse catalogues at their leisure and make selections away from a computer screen. Most importantly for mail-order companies, printed catalogues get customers’ attention and remind them to order several times a year. As Rose Marie Nichols McGee of Nichols Garden Nursery in Albany, Oregon stated, it is helpful for many companies to have “two feet”, one in cyberspace, and one in the material world, to reach customers who might not actively seek them out on the web. If they do not publish a paper catalogue, companies wishing to attract customers to their websites by other means advertise in newspapers and magazines, or sell their products in garden centers.

For seed and nursery catalogue collectors, online catalogues present a challenge. Their changing nature makes them much more likely than printed seed catalogues to become ephemera, even more difficult than printed lists to preserve for future generations.