Aren’t the Vintage Seed Packets stamps beautiful? According to Dr. Irwin Richman, author of Seed Art: the Package Made Me Buy It, the first seed catalog using color plates was issued in 1853. Since then, the illustrations in catalogs and on seed packages—from the original hand-painted pictures to modern photographs—have encouraged gardeners to believe that they, too, can grow the same luscious, perfect blossoms.
If you can’t get enough of these pictures of botanical perfection, we’ve found some online resources to inspire you even more:
- The Smithsonian Institution has an extensive collection of vintage seed catalogs. Its online exhibit holds 500 illustrations from more than 250 catalogs. You can browse by company or by the kind of flower, fruit, or vegetable you want to see. The exhibit also includes examples of vintage seed-catalog cover art featuring everything from farms to fairs, seed stores to ships.
- The National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland, holds a collection of more than 200,000 American and international seed catalogs. The catalogs date from the late 1700s, and its online exhibit includes a few examples from that time. However, the beautifully illustrated catalogs begin with examples from 1876.
- Fascinated by the history of seed catalogs? The Oregon State University Libraries’ Special Collections Division has a wonderful illustrated exhibit that explores the history of the catalogs in the U.S. and Europe.
- The Labelman, an online store that specializes in antique seed packets—as well as labels from crates and cans—offers a wealth of information on its website, including a brief history and tips on decorating with the vintage art.
Have fun exploring! And don’t forget that spring seed catalogs should be arriving in your mailbox soon, offering the same garden dreams as their vintage ancestors.