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I spent an afternoon recently at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Elm Bank Library in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

The Mass Hort has one of the finest collections of nineteenth century seed and nursery catalogs.

The librarian provided some of the catalogs from the seedsman Robert Buist (1805-1880).

Scottish immigrant gardener Robert Buist 1805-1880


What amazed me is how much the cover of the catalog changed over a period of fifty years, as more printing and publishing innovations entered the culture.  By the 1890s it was a different world.  A mass media culture, especially through magazines and newspapers, had begun.

At the beginning of the Company in Philadelphia, the catalog cover featured a black and white line drawing, and by the end of the century the cover became a blast of color.

As with any business, the seed and nurseries industries had to keep up to date in order to attract customers.

By the end of the century the companies were mailing out hundreds of thousands of catalogs.

The catalog cover reflected a new kind of business by that time.

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