Seed Catalogs Offer
Glimpse of Yesterday
By Marcia Wood
July 30, 1999
Looking for that special horse-drawn
lawnmower? You may not find one for sale, but an old seed catalog has an ad for
an "improved" model. That catalog and more than 170,000 others in a
special library collection offer a nostalgic glimpse of old-time American
farming and gardening.
The seed catalogs--dating as far back as the late 1700's--also serve as a
scholarly resource for botanists, historians, statisticians, landscape
architects and others, according to Susan H. Fugate. She oversees the catalogs
and other special collections at the National Agricultural Library in
NAL, the world's largest agricultural research library, is part of the
Agricultural Research Service, USDA's
chief scientific agency.
The catalogs describe thousands of trees, shrubs, bulbs and other plants
that farmers and gardeners of yesteryear bought from seed companies, nurseries
and growers. Ads in some catalogs display farm and garden implements such as an
"improved" horse-drawn lawnmower and special "horse boots"
to keep the animal from "sinking in damp or soft ground."
Library users have combed the catalogs to find out more about the history of
a nursery implement or gardening tool, or to trace the inadvertent sale--and
resulting spread--of plants today regarded as weeds.
Begun in 1904, the collection has been enhanced by donations from attics and
files of nursery companies and institutions such as the
Society, University of California at
Berkeley, and the Brooklyn Botanical
Garden in New York City.
The seed catalog collection is featured in an article in the July 1999 issue
of Agricultural Research
magazine, available on the World Wide Web at:
Contact:Susan H. Fugate, Special Collections Section, ARS
National Agricultural Library, 10301 Baltimore Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705,
phone (301) 504-5876, fax (301) 504-7593, email@example.com.