When the Shakers arrived from England in the late 1700s and settled in Watervliet, New York, they gardened of course , but also needed to provide income for the community.
Selling vegetable seeds became the answer.
The Shakers found the most efficient way to provide a costumer with the seeds was with a small paper envelope. They were the first to use seed packets as a marketing strategy.
According to the book Work and Worship among the Shakers, “from 1811 when the Watervliet Shakers raised $300 worth of seeds, to 1840, at the height of the enterprise, the seed business was their chief industry.”
The Shaker seed pedlers crossed the state of Nw York as well as bordering states to sell their seeds.
Other Shaker communities also took up the business.
Shaker historian M. Stephen Miller writes in the book Shaker Design: ” For the garden seed industry the Shakers used up-to-date printing technologies as they evolved, even though it meant having the printing done for them rather than by them…Seeds were a major source of revenue throughout the nineteenth century.”
The Shaker seed business lasted until about 1870 when it could no longer compete with the commercial seed trade.
Nineteenth century seed companies, like Burpee and Park, owe a debt of gratitude to the Shakers who paved the way for seed sales with their simple paper seed packet.