Saturday, January 18, 2014

"Make Der Face Open, Fido" and A Seed's Sinister Secret

This delightful photo contains both charming children and a plant capable of poisoning the town's water supply!

While I am exaggerating a little, that lovely foliage plant to the right is the castor oil plant which contains ricin in all its parts.

The beans are especially laden with the poison. While one could die from eating 4 to 8 of them whole, and one could extract concentrated ricin, neither is likely due to the nasty effects of just a little of the poison, and the complication of the distillation process.  The Wikipedia page is very interesting overview of the plant.

Much more likely in the time of this photo would be a dosing of these little children with castor oil as a laxative!

Want to read the whole story? :-)

Also, "castor oil is an effective motor lubricant and has been used in internal combustion engines, including those of World War I airplanes, some racing cars and some model airplanes. It does not mix with petroleum products. It has been largely replaced by synthetic oils that are more stable and less toxic".

This page is good if you are a gearhead!

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Tad More from the Three Misses from Minneapolis

Harking back to the 1/7/14 post Three Misses from Minneapolis, today's post is a full newspaper page that contains ads from all three seedswomen - Lippincott, Prior and White. Reading the whole page lets you travel back in time to 1906...a time when folks made their own lawn rollers it seems! 
 Do we roll lawns anymore?  I don't have a lawn, having decided to weed the grass out of my moss quite a few years ago.

A large size page is here.

When I did the first "3 Miss" postings I could not find much on Miss Jessie Prior.  Using newspapers I have started to find out more about her perhaps...and I am not sure she was really the mover and shaker in her company. I read that companies pretended to be women owned because women were perceived as more honest, careful and possibly cheaper sources of good seeds.
More on that later if it is interesting enough to mention.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Selection of Shaker Images Relating to Seeds and One Good Link

Today's entry is not on the Thorburn family and their seed company!  It has been a busy week at school with after school events so until the weekend I am taking a break and posting a few things I have accumulated.  (I am so happy for two of my students who were chosen to represent  the school and the town in a PTA sponsored program, Reflections, at an event  last night at Cheney Hall! One will go on to the state level.)

A Selection of Shaker Images Relating to Seeds
 and One Good Link

“In the year 1790, Believers in this place had a Little Family garden occupying about two acres of land. Joseph Turner worked it and began to raise a few kinds of seeds to sell. Previous to this it was not customary in this part of the country for people to raise garden seeds for sale. When any neighbor lacked seeds, another would give him what he wanted and did not think of asking pay, more than they would for a bucket of water.” (WRHS Collection, n.d.) 

Read or download this PDF:  Hands to Work, Hearts to God: The Story of the Shaker Seed Industry.
Published by HortTechnology, Oct./Dec. 1993.  

The Emigrant's Informant, Or, A Guide to Upper Canada mentions...

The Farmer's Monthly Visitor - Volumes 1-2 -1839- Page 100

I wonder who designed this box above.  The printer or a Shaker?
The colorful boxes look so un-Shakerish, except from the perspective of being good displays that do their job well.

I find the printing on this one (above) really cool.  I like the upside down packet title.  Makes sense as people often put things down topsy turvy after looking.  Also unexpected is the fact it was printed after the packet was constructed.

Odds & Ends
I did not know HortTechnology .  Glad to have bumped into it!  - "HortTechnology serves as the primary outreach publication of the American Society for Horticultural Science. Its mission is to provide science-based information to professional horticulturists, practitioners, and educators; promote and encourage an interchange of ideas among scientists, educators, and professionals working in horticulture; and provide an opportunity for peer review of practical horticultural information."

Reproduction Shaker seed boxes from a company called Shaker Workshops. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

First Seedsman in New York City (Part 4)

                                                                                                                                          Grant Thorburn saw a need for seed but had no clue where to get it!                                                                                                         As luck would have it, the plant grower who supplied the plants for Thorburn's shop planned to grow seed on his farm for the next year. Plus, if Thorburn promised to buy his seed next year, he would sell Thorburn his stock of seed he had on hand which he had earlier planned to sell in the market.  A deal was struck on the 17th of September, 1805.  The first seed store in New York City was born.
He was right! The seed sales were brisk and he sold out quickly...which left him in the position of being seedless and clueless as to where one bought more.  He was as naive as they come it seems about the trade in seeds and anything else in the horticultural world.

If you read any of Grant Thorburn's books you get the impression he was an upbeat and nice man who people liked.  Over and over again, when he was in trouble or in need, people came to his aid.   

Read below, in his own words, what happened after he sold out!  The dude was lucky.

Odds & Ends

Malcolm & Co. was a good company to have found. They were well respected and were often mentioned as the the source of this or that cool new plant.  These references are from a later date than the catalog mentioned by Thorburn.

 Towards the end of this ad, Mr. Malcolm gives a testimonial to its efficacy :-)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Pelargonium peltatum To the Rescue! (Part 3)

Our hero, Grant Thorburn was living in 1801 at 22 Nassau Street, running a grocery with his new wife.

Nassau Street seems to have been the sort of street where you could find anything...but you had better look at it very closely before buying. Signs hung from every wall, were posted in windows, painted on stairs and fluttered as posters aged.  It bustled!  These two pictures, nearly 100 years apart, show similar scenes.

Thorburn was doing well...until a competitor opened a shop in a much more noticeable corner building.  Thorburn's business started to fail.

I am constantly impressed by Grant Thorburn's energy and ability not to get stuck saying "poor me".  This time he noticed a new craze for potted plants has created a greater need for pots.

 He picked up a few plain terracotta pots, and sold them. Then he thought that an improved pot, one with a green varnish might sell.  He slapped a coat of varnish on two pots, sat them in his window and they sold almost immediately.  He continued customizing the pots that he bought in the market.

One day while passing a plant dealer there he noticed for the first time in his life a geranium!
(The guy was not into plants.)

He was impressed with its tangy smell, thinking it would look great in his pots and catch a lady's eye. Thorburn bought the geranium, and it sold quickly with its pot so he had to buy more.  Eventually he did a deal with the plant man where the plant grower would stay  home from the market and use his time to grow more for Thorburn to sell. Both were Scots, the business arrangement worked well, and Thorburn began to attract buyers for his plants.

Many people, in the city for amusement and not wanting to carry a heavy potted plant home on the train, asked if he sold seeds.   And that is the beginning in 1802 of the seed and plant business for the Thorburn family.

To be continued...

Pelargonium peltatum

A nice book to peruse  that shows New York in the late 1800s (published in 1872 I think):

Lights and Shadows of New York Life: Or, The Sights and Sensations of the Great City. A Work Descriptive of the City of New York in All Its Various Phases

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Wiser to Marry than Hire a Housekeeper (Part 2)

I found him!

This is Grant Thorburn, Long Island seedsman and father of the C. G. Thorburn who published seed catalogs and books of plant care.  (Do you find the feet oddly big?)
He was a Scot who emigrated to the United States.  Born near Edinburgh in 1773, he was the son of a nail-maker.  Twenty years later his father paid the passage on the Providence of New York for Grant and his brother. They set sail in 1794 to make their way in a new country.  Father Thorburn gave them 20 shillings silver to tide them over until they found work.  The young men had a family heirloom trunk stuffed with provisions they would need on the voyage.  They went steerage, as did many Scots (my husband's grandfather among them) and found themselves 3 to a bunk... with their bunkmate being a "very large Highland porter".  Squished between the Highlander and his brother, Grant feared smothering when the ship listed. 
There was a scare of being impressed into the English navy one day when the ship was stopped by an English ship.  Young men were sent below so as not to catch the eye of the officers. While it turned out they were only looking for a deserter, politics of the day would continue to mark Thorburn's activities.

His activities are amusing, making an enjoyable read if you are so inclined.  The original multi-tasker, Thorburn even arranged it so his future wife would sit in the window of his shop doing needlework while he made nails, thus "killing two birds with one stone"!  In his defense, he was rising at 4 AM and made nail until 8 when he went to open a store he and his brother kept.  He worked there until 8 PM at which time he went back and made nails until 12!  Getting married was the only answer...he would then have a shopkeeper.  His brother was sickly, if you were wondering where he was keeping himself.

He prospered, had amusing adventures is this new republic, had a son, the Yellow Fever decimated New York, his wife died.  He married again, "thinking it more creditable and wise to marry a wife than to hire a housekeeper". 

I'll end the tale today with the sad news (to Grant Thorburn) that the Industrial Revolution had inched its way into nail making.  The invention of the cut, rather than forged,  nail eliminated the trade he was so proud of, the trade of his father.  He was now a grocer.

Tomorrow - how does a grocer become a seedsman?

Extra info for those so inclined:

I like old technologies.  I have been surrounded by men all my life who work in crafts that haven't changed much in 500 years.  I know bits and pieces, some much bigger than others, of many skills needed in the pre Industrial Revolution world. Until I became a teacher in my 40's, I made my way being an artisan...thinking back on it, the only modern tool that crept its way onto my workbench is a Dremel or Fordham tool (teeny tiny routers that can sound like, and work like,  a dentist's drill).
FYI - By 1886 wire nails were edging out cut nails.

Information on the history of cut nails:

This is from: 

Encyclopaedia Londinensisor, Universal dictionary of arts, sciences, and literature, comprehending, under one general alphabetical arrangement, all the words and substance of every kind of dictionary extant in the English language ... embellished by a ... set of copper-plate engravings ... Compiled, digested, and arranged, by John Wilkes, of Milland House, in the county of Sussex, Volume 16, 1819