While the catalogues are primarily lists, they contain several more modern elements that were becoming more commonplace. For example, some of the catalogues contain item numbers, and flower charts with symbols showing information such as Latin name, common name, hardiness, bloom time, and color. These developments seem to coincide with the gradual emergence of mail order. According to John Harvey, the oldest English surviving example of these innovations is from 1833.2 Some of the catalogues may have been inspired by English models in other ways: the cover of Hovey’s 1848 flower seed catalogue is too similar to those of the London firm of James Carter from the 1840s to be coincidental.
The Massachusetts catalogues in the OSU collection shed light on the early history of mail-order seed and plant shipping. In 1846, Walker and Co. offered seeds to any part of the country, with a note that orders “should be accompanied with a remittance or draft payable in Boston or New York”. In 1849, Breck sent fruit trees and seeds to any part of the country as well as the West Indies and Great Britain. In the same year, Hovey also accepted orders from the south and west and the West Indies and shipped “either direct or by the way of New York, or forwarded by any of the Express Lines or Railroads to any part of the country”. Winship’s catalogue said orders could be received by mail and shipped by rail to the western US and Canada, and Azell Bowditch’s fruit catalogue said, “Orders by mail will be promptly executed”. Despite these offers, getting seeds and plants delivered to remote areas at this time was both risky and expensive.
- The History of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society 1829-1878, (Printed for the Society, Boston, 1880) 160 Return to text ↑
- John H. Harvey, Early Gardening Catalogues, (London and Chichester, Phillimore) 1972 Return to text ↑