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Nineteenth Century Garden Advertising Sold Novelties

Any business has to adjust to the changing social environment in which it operates.

That applied as well to businesses in the 1890s.

At that time in America advertising underwent a shift in format and purpose.

Advertising sought to promote new products, or ‘novelties’.  The garden industry had to adjust to this new kind of advertising.

In the front of the catalog appeared a section of new plants, or new seeds, referred to as ‘novelties’.  The pages were often a different color form the rest of the catalog so these items would catch the attention of the customer.

Hollyhock here described as a 'novelty' in this Harper's ad of 1888
The Hollyhock described above as a ‘novelty’ in this Harper’s ad of 1888

The catalogs were sales tools.  Burpee called the catalog the ‘Silent Salesman’.

In the Yale Review  of 1899 in an article entitled “The Philosophy of Modern Advertising” we read: “The most expensive forms of modern advertising, and hence presumably the most profitable, aim to win the reader to buying some new book, some new medicine, or some new mechanical device. Advertising in magazines is, from its nature, almost exclusively concerned with ‘novelties’, in the broadest sense of the word, articles that twenty years ago were not heard of, and which are aiming to win the attention and favor of the public.”

And so the seed and nursery catalogs told its customers they needed a novelty plant.  Next year the plant might be eliminated from the list, but this year it was new, a novelty, and thus one any gardener needed.

Is it any surprise that ever since gardeners have been on the hunt for that novelty plant?

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