Seed Catalogs Seed Catalogs


The Smithsonian Institution Libraries have a unique trade catalog collection that includes about 10,000 seed and nursery catalogs dating from 1830 to the present. Many of the trade catalogs were part of the Burpee Collection donated to the Horticulture Services Division by Mrs. David Burpee in 1982. The collection includes both Burpee and their competitors' catalogs.

The real gems of the collection date from 1830 to the 1930s and are both beautiful and important multidisciplinary historical documents. The seed trade catalogs document the history of the seed and agricultural implement business in the United States, as well as provide a history of botany and plant research such as the introduction of plant varieties into the United States. Additionally, the seed trade catalogs are a window into the history of graphic arts in advertising, and a social history, through the text and illustrations, showing changing fashions in flowers and vegetables.

The seed and nursery catalogs are part of the Smithsonian Libraries Trade Literature Collection, which is held in the National Museum of American History Library (NMAH). The Library's Trade Literature Collection is available to the public by appointment only. Because this collection is unique and irreplaceable, items do not circulate.

Marca L. Woodhams, Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Contact the Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Further Online Resources

The American Seed and Nursery Industry, Bibliography and Biographies
Marca L. Woodhams, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Smithsonian Institution Libraries Online
Smithsonian Institution Libraries