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Nineteenth Century Seedsman James Vick Offered Chromos to his Customers

In late nineteenth century America it was not uncommon for companies to offer a chromolithograph to its customers.  An artist would first paint the scene, flowers for example, and then other artists would reproduce that painting through the process of chromolithography.

The customer would then frame the chromo, as it was called,  and hang it up on the living room or dining room wall. It thus was a way that middle class families were able to display art.

A chromo from the James Vick Seed Company. [Courtesy of AAS]
A chromo offered by the James Vick Seed Company. [Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society]
This [above] is an example of a chromo that James Vick (1818-1882) offered. Vick ran a successful seed business in Rochester, Nee York.

In his 1874 catalog Vick wrote: “We have already sold over one hundred thousand of these Chromos without a penny of profit, nor do we desire one. They have performed their mission–increased the love of flowers, made more pleasant the homes of our customers, and we are more than satisfied.”

This chromo, courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society,  called ‘Chromo A’, measured  16 by 20 inches. Vick offered it in the same catalog.

In the late 1880s the Pabst Brewing Company in Milwaukee also offered ‘pictures’ that were a bit largner in size, 22 by 28 inches.  The company’s ad said: “They are without lettering and especially designed for framing. We make this really exceptional offer that our friends may obtain a pleasing memento.”

Vick’s chromos, all of flowers, cost a customer one dollar, which covered the postage. The Chromo was  “on strong paper, sized and varnished, and sent by mail, postage paid.”

He proclaimed its value in these words: “In this style the Chromo is equal to an oil painting.”

If a customer wanted the chormo framed, that was also available. Vick wrote: “We offer Chromos Framed in Black Walnut and Gilt at $3.00 each.”

American gardening thus became associated with oil painting where the company’s flowers became the subject of the art work.

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