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Chromos Became Middle Class Art Form in the late Nineteenth Century
The art form called chromolithography provided colorful illustrations for the nineteenth century seed and nursery catalogs.
After 1850 chromos, as they were called, became a part of every business, whether for the sale of sewing machines, clothing, pots and pans, or seeds and plants. Companies flooded the market with chromos of both their products and their buildings. People loved them, and collected them.
Thomas J. Schlereth writes in his book Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life 1876-1915, “Families displayed their histories (framed photographs, marriage certificates, and the like) and their taste as consumers (lithograph prints…) in parlors that doubled as family museums…Women created these collections, as well as other parlor artifacts and activities.”
Rochester seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) offered several chromos depicting flowers from his catalog’s collection of seeds.
He thus used the latest marketing form for his seed company. When chromolithography entered the scene, Vick was an early adopter, featuring a chromolithograph on his seed catalog cover of 1873.
He encouraged his customers to write in for a chromo he offered that they could frame and put in a suitable spot on the wall in their homes.
Over several years he offered a few different chromos.
Here is Vick’s Chromo E, which measured 19 by 24 inches [below]:In his seed catalog of 1874 Vick detailed the history of how he came to offer these chromos to his customers.
He wrote the following story in an article simply entitled “Our Chromos.”
Vick said “For many years we have endeavored to use every means within our power to increase the love and culture of flowers among the people. While walking among our ruined flowers one morning after an unusally early frost in September, and picking here and there a specimen that had escaped destruction, we could not help feeling sad that our flowers were done, especially as there were some that we would have to describe from recollection. We at once determined that the next season we would secure the services of a first-class flower-artist, and in oil colors preserve on canvas the most truthful representations possible of the leading varieties of flowers. In this we were quite successful, and our office blossomed, regardless of cold or storms, we were delighted for a time. Soon, however, the paintings failed to afford the full measure of pleasure we anticipated, because we were enjoying them alone, with the exception of a few friends or customers who happened to call; but our thousands of customers received no satisfaction from them. We at once determined to make an effort to have them chromoed in the highest style of the art, so they would be as perfect as the oil painting. In this we were also successful, and for several years we have been furnishing Chromos of these paintings to our customers.”
Thus he made his oil paintings of the flowers available to his customers as chromolithographs, or as Vick put it, he “chromoed” them.
They were quite popular for his Company. He sold over 100,000.
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