About the Exhibit
Seed catalogs were once a staple on everyone's parlor tables. Brimming with folk art, exquisite plant portraits, whimsical fairies and gnomes or fair maidens in the garden, they highlight rural society's desires and interests, enterprises and passions. One will find advertisements for hunting dogs, pigs, chickens, pleasure boats, farm implements, porcelain vases and heal-all tonics.
This online exhibit comprises nearly 150 catalog covers, pages and plates, culled from the Andersen Horticultural Library's extensive collection of over 57,000 historic seed and nursery catalogs.
Many Midwestern companies are represented, including Lippincott seeds, Northrup King, both originally of Minneapolis, and Farmer Seed of Faribault, among others. (Northrup King is now a division of Syngenta corporation.)
Of special note are three seedhouses owned and run by women, quite an unusual feat in the early 1900s. These include Mrs. Jessie Prior, Miss Emma V. White and Miss Carrie Lippincott.
Another company, the Oscar Will seed company, "sprouted" in Bismarck, N.D., in 1881. It was that area's first-ever seedhouse and had the distinction of introducing several Native American seeds into the trade, including those from the Mandan, Arikara and Hidatsa cultures.
The stories behind the scenes, including Minneapolis seedswomen, regional pioneers and colonial innovators, give a more intimate look at the life and gardens surrounding these catalogs. Themes such as patriotism and marketing occur across companies and time.