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are both beautiful and important multidisciplinary historical
documents.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
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.
Further Online Resources
American Seed and Nursery Industry, Bibliography and Biographies
Marca L. Woodhams, Smithsonian Institution Libraries