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Nineteenth Century Seed Catalogs Claimed Better Seed than Local Stores

Marketing any product means you need to provide the reasons why your product is better than its competitors. Of course you do that through language. In the process of choosing words you construct an image for your product so that it will stand out in the marketplace.

That certainly works when you want to brand your product, or give it a certain recognizability.

In the nineteenth century seed companies had to impress upon their customers that their seed was of a better quality than seed sold in local stores.

Allison Kyle Leopold writes in her book The Victorian Garden, “Since seeds from peddlers’ carts and country stores were often scorned–‘They are not so certain to be pure and fresh’ –purchase from the new mail-order catalogs was advised.”

The mail order business provided a vehicle for the seed companies to sell their product. The government at times provided lenient post office rates for that purpose.

The Shakers sold their seeds mainly in country stores. No one doubted the quality of their seeds.

The commercial seed industry however forged its way by advertising, proclaiming in seed catalogs and ads that each sold the freshest seed.

Here is an illustration from the Everitt seed catalog of 1892. The black and white engraving depicts the fierce competition among the seed companies. [below]

Everitt seed catalog engraving, 1892
Everitt seed catalog engraving, 1892

It was the seed catalog that provided both the seeds and the motivation to cultivate a garden.

Here a customer complemented  Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) in the 1879 issue of Vick’s magazine called Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.   The customer wrote, “I see that in some of your numbers you are giving a little hint now and then as to how they encourage the love of flowers in England. I am glad of your efforts.”

People loved the catalogs for many reasons: contact with the owner, words of encouragement, learning about gardening in England, but also the product, quality seeds.

Here is the cover of the seed catalog of 1882 from the D. M. Ferry and Company in Detroit. [below]

1882 catalog cover
1882 catalog cover [courtesy of Pinterest]
Leopold concludes, “It was generally felt that seeds from catalogs were superior to those gathered at random from fields and gardens.”  So people bought seeds from the catalogs.


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