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19th Century Garden Catalog Was Advertising
The seed and nursery catalog covers from the nineteenth century appealed to so many people because they offered a sense of color, design, and feel for that period. Even today we love their look.
They are also ads.
The nineteenth century American style of landscape followed the English model not only in newspapers but in magazines, and, of course, the garden catalog, as New York seedsman Peter Henderson did on this 1897 seed catalog cover. [below]
Anthropologist Grant McCracken in an article about advertising in the Journal of Consumer Research says, “Cultures segment the flora, fauna, and landscape of natural and supernatural worlds into categories.”
Advertising in a culture defines class, gender, and fashion, including gardening.
So in the nineteenth century American seed and nursery businesses said the English garden style, sometimes picturesque, sometimes naturalistic, sometimes gardenesque. was the preferable form for the gardener.
McCracken says, “Advertising works as a potential method of meaning transfer by bringing the consumer good [like a plant or seed] and representation of the culturally constituted world together within the frame of a particular advertisement.”
Since the catalog from the seed and nursery industries was often called an advertisement, we can certainly refer to the cover as such, since the colorful illustrations were so carefully chosen by the company owner to give a particular message.
In this Henderson catalog it is the English garden style that he represented, especially in the lawn.
Think how advertising works. We never just buy a product, like a plant or seed, we buy the dream in the image connected with the product. How the flower might look, how the garden might turn out.
In Henderson’s cover home owners could envision a lush and green lawn like the one illustrated on the cover.
The cover sold the English garden with its lawn.