Monday, November 7, 2011

The Nature of Type Design in the 19th C, Part One

Seed companies and mail-order catalogs proliferated in America and Britain during the second half of the 19th century as transportation and postal networks improved. With new growth in urban areas throughout the US, seed and nursery companies faced increased competition and which lead to the growth of hand illustrated type designs. It wasn't enough for nurseries and seed companies to distinguish themselves from their competitors just by offering novelty plant specimens. They had to create elaborately illustrated catalog covers, often with hand-lettered type layouts. The seed catalog cover designs displayed above are not necessarily some of the most colorful or elaborate, but they are typical of some of the early type layouts. These are all from the Oregon State University Seed and Nursery Trade catalogue collection.
      James Vick was one of the merchants who dominated the floral nursery industry in upstate New York in the second half of the 19th century. They had a 100 acre nursery for growing seeds and plants, a retail store, an order and packing department, a publishing office, engravers' rooms, and a bindery for the production of catalogs. 

      Below are wood engravings from an 1873 Vick's Floral catalog which illustrate their seed warehouse and retail store which is part of an online exhibit from the American Antiquarian Society on seed catalogs in the last half of the 19th century. Tomorrow I will include some additional 19th century catalog covers from other competing nurseries and seed companies. 

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