First Nineteenth Century Seed Business to Feature Chromos

We love to recognize the first to do something.  When I was young, we had the first television on our block.  What a proud moment. I never knew I had so many friends.

In the seed and nursery business of the nineteenth century the question of who included the first chromolithograph in the company catalog is important. That person started a trend.

According to American historian and museum director Charles Van Ravenswaay,  James Vick in 1864 was the first to use a chromo in his catalog.

Zinnia, Pop Art Red and Yellow [Burpee collection]

Double Zinnia, Pop Art Red and Yellow [from Burpee’s newest seed catalog]

Van Ravenswaay wrote in his book A Nineteeth Century Garden, “In the late 1840s black-and-white illustrations had been added to seed catalogs: colored illustrations were the obvious  next step but action was delayed, probably because of the cost. The first to move may have been James Vick, that Rochester seedsman and innovator; his 1864 catalog appeared with a colored lithograph of double zinnias which had only been developed four years earlier.  Others soon followed suit.”

The image of the product  became important for a business.  To let a customer see the flower in color was never experienced before in the garden business.

Vick was truly a trailblazer.

To this day it is the image of the product that moves us to make a purchase, not the words that we read about the product.

Like Burpee’s new zinnia variety [above], the shape, color, and size of the flower draw us in when we see this photo.

I wonder how many American gardeners this summer plan to include this Burpee variety in a bed or border after setting eyes on this photo.

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