The Nineteenth Century Garden Industry Pioneered the Mail Order Catalog

Today we take the sales catalog for granted.

In our house several arrive in the mail each month, selling everything from flour to clothes.

In the nineteenth century the American seed and nursery industries pioneered the use of the mail order catalog to reach customers across the country.  It became their major form of advertising.

Truman A. DeWeese in his  1908 book The Principles of Practical Publicity wrote: “Mail order advertising is one of the marvelous developments of the modern art of Publicity. By means of this ‘salesmanship-on-paper’ many fortunes have been made and great mercantile establishments have been built up.”

This Everitt Company Catalog of 1892 illustrated the competition among seed merchants.

This Everitt Company Catalog of 1892 illustrated the competition among seed merchants.

Seed companies and nurseries took pride in presenting their yearly catalogs. Seedsman John Lewis Childs, in 1896, told his customers in his catalog, “One of the pleasures which the first of each year affords is the presentation of a copy of our new catalogue to each of our customers, and we do it believing that they find pleasure and profit in receiving it. It is no small task to supply half a million books like this, and it necessitates an enormous outlay of labor and money.”

There was great competition in the seed and nursery trade, each company attempting to appeal to customers in different ways [as illustrated in the image above].  Some included the biggest plant variety and another the best colorful plant illustration.  All in hopes of winning over a customer.

As the century moved along, the seed and nursery catalog proved successful enough that other companies like Sears and Roebuck built their success on the catalogs issued from seed companies and nurseries.

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