Promotional Material for a Nineteenth Century Business Represented Progress

We take for granted that words and images to promote any product can flow freely in our society.

Today we generally have no issues with whatever a company wants to say in an ad. After all, an ad is just an ad, isn’t it? It is much more than promotion.

By the 1890s when advances in printing technology made it possible to print millions of seed and nursery catalogs, promotional literature from a company reflected how well the company was doing. The implication was that the more catalogs, magazines, and illustrations from the company, the bigger and more successful the company.

Pegargonum [Courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library]

Pegargonum [Courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library]

Take horticultural artwork as an example.

This illustration of Pelargonum Grandiflorum [left] from 1896 represents the progress of chromolithography in depicting flowers.  This floral art is from the English garden book Favorite Flowers of Garden and Greenhouse by Edward Step.

Pamela Walker Laird in her book Advertising Progress: American Business and the Rise of Consumer Marketing writes: “Printed materials held a special significance in the nineteenth-century United States. Books, periodicals, and printed art represented both progress and the potential for future progress.”

So the more a seed company or nursery printed and illustrated, the more successful the company appeared in the eyes of the customer.  The company thus seemed progressive and up-to-date, and, of course, one that the customer wanted to deal with for any seeds and plants for the garden.

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