Vick, James–(1818-1882)–Rochester, New York–Vick
was born in Portsmouth, England on Nov. 23, 1818. In 1833, he came
to New York City at twelve years of age and learned the printer’s trade.
In 1837, he moved with his parents to Rochester, New York where he set
type for several newspapers. He later owned part of a workers’ journal
and helped to found Frederick Douglass’s North Star. In 1849,
James Vick was elected corresponding secretary of the Genesee Valley Horticultural
Society. Vick was associated with the Genesee Farmer as a
writer and editor from 1849 to 1855 when he became owner and publisher
as well. With Vick as editor, the circulation increased rapidly
and became a more elegant publication. A year later he sold out to
Joseph Harris. On the death of A. J. Downing, James Vick bought The
Horticulturist and moved it to Rochester in 1853. The Horticulturist
was published in Rochester in 1853 and 1854 with Patrick Barry as the editor.
It was devoted to horticulture, floriculture, landscape gardening, and
rural architecture. About this time, Vick started to grow flowers
and then began sending seeds out by mail to the readers of his publication.
In 1856, Vick started Rural Annual and Horticultural Directory,
the first half being a seed catalog and the second half a list of nurserymen.
This was taken over the next year by Joseph Harris who continued it until
1867. In 1860, Vick entered the seed business. In 1866, he established
his seed store on East Avenue, and the site eventually became one of the
best known seed-display gardens in the country. With Vick’s
expertise as a printer and his knowledge of chromolithography, he began
in the 1860s to produce a catalog and later a monthly magazine. Vick
issued his first Floral Guide and Catalogue in 1862. His Floral
Guides provided gardening advice, a forum for complaints, and quality
color prints, and eventually reached a circulation of 250,000. Vick’s
experience as a journalist helped him to perfect a personal style.
He entertained his readers with anecdotes, published letters he had received,
and had a special section for children. By 1876, the first 46 pages
of his catalog were a general gardening magazine with the price list following.
By 1870 his mail was averaging over three thousand letters and over three
hundred orders a day. As many as 150,00 catalogs were sent out each
year. A staff of more than one hundred worked in the office and packing
house. There were over seventy-five acres of seed gardens scattered
about the city. In 1878, Vick started the paper known as Vick’s
Illustrated Monthly which was published by the Vick Seed Company in
Rochester and in Dansville until 1909. This magazine with numerous
illustrations was devoted to floriculture and landscape gardening and was
sold by subscription. Vick printed a set of large prints that were
either sold or given as premiums with large orders. The smaller prints
that came in the magazine were completed by rows of young girls following
a stencil or guide that was drawn by an artist. Vick was probably
the most successful horticultural seedsman, writer, and merchandiser of
his day. The Vick company continued into the 20th century before
being sold to the Burpee Seed Co.
CHSJ-Apr. 1966; Art