Banner Image. A Short History of the Seed and Nursery Catalogue in Europe and the U.S.
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About the Exhibit

The study of seed and nursery trade catalogues unites a variety of disciplines: botany, social and economic history, garden history, and art history. Historians of heirloom vegetables, fruits, and flowers can use catalogues to ascertain the date and place of introduction of specific varieties, read early descriptions, and view illustrations. Studying the availability of plant varieties over the years can help us to understand which ones withstood the test of time, and how gardening fashions changed. The catalogues document price changes, and different ways in which seeds and plants were ordered and shipped. Closely aligned with the history of printing, the catalogues show which materials and techniques were within reach of both small and large companies at various times. They also display many interesting and beautiful examples of botanical and commercial art.

Because seed and nursery catalogues are often catalogued in libraries as ephemera, rather than as a category in their own right, it has been difficult for researchers and bibliographers to know which catalogues survive in archives around the country. As more libraries put the contents of their collections online, it will be easier to search collections and write more thorough histories of gardening.

The purpose of this website, which we hope will stimulate interest in the OSU collection, is to make the contents more accessible to researchers. The scanned catalogue pages on the site include plant lists, variety descriptions, cover art, photographs, and examples showing how catalogues responded to historical events. These documents form part of a narrative that situates the catalogues within the context of the history of printed seed and nursery catalogues from the 17th century to the present. The site enables researchers to search the collection and provides links to other catalogue collections and resources.

Click on images throughout the site to gain access to additional contextual information and larger view copies.

Graines et Plantes. Rivoire Père & Fils. 1927.

Graines et Plantes. Rivoire Père & Fils. 1927.