The April issue of 1923 is made of excerpts from an incredible collection: the Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection, which contains hundreds of thousands of U.S. and international catalogs dating from the 18th century to the present. The overwhelming majority of items in this collection are in the public domain, and the Internet Archive hosts some 1700 objects from the year 1923 alone.
To collect images and excerpts for this issue, I thumbed through dozens or hundreds of those catalogs, and I can report the experience is extremely satisfying! Many of the items evince the charming aesthetic I associate with cost-controlled mass-produced ephemera, but some (like Dreer’s Garden Book, 1923 , from which I pulled the cover image) are works of art in full, rich color.
And it’s not just flowers — nearly all of the catalogs have sections devoted to fruits and vegetables, to farming tools, to pesticides, and to all the other things you might need to run an agricultural enterprise, large or small. I tried to include some representative samples, but I couldn’t do it justice. If you’re at all interested, please dig in to the underlying collection and enjoy both the illustrations and the copy.
(I’d be remiss if I didn’t say: if you like this sort of thing, you may be interested in the Pomological Watercolor Collection, another set at the USDA’s National Agricultural Library, that spans the 1880s to the 1930s. Atlas Obscura did a nice write-up of the collection last month, which mentions the Twitter bot I built to post images at regular intervals.)Download this issue as pdf.