Saturday, February 1, 2014

General Grant, The Tomato of 1870

Less than 10 years before this tomato was named, this country was fighting one of the bloodiest wars we have ever known.  To name a tomato after General Grant seems frivolous given how recently in 1870 more than tomato sauce was reddening the land.

However...from the good tradition of marketing your product, as a name to proclaim your tomato victorious over all others, it can not be faulted!  I certainly don't...but it still seems odd.  Maybe that's because we no longer name our veggies after people...the Colin Powell Potato, or Obama Aubergine.  We do have the Bush Bean come to think of it, but you know what I mean.

This tomato was so heralded in so many publications that I had to take notice.  I assume Washburn and Co. were excellent promoters of their tomato, but it also seems it was a very good tomato for that time!  Commented upon was the fact it was a smooth round fruit, as are most of our modern store tomatoes.

I can't figure out why Mr. Waring (above) is charging the HUGE sum of $5 for 25 seeds.  Then again, on eBay you find people offering stuff at bizarre for a lunatic I suppose. Or, more likely, it is just a clever way to get us to talk about the General Grant!  Cool.

Friday, January 31, 2014

115 Years Ago: The Arrival of the Spring Seed Catalogs

I enjoyed reading this and hope you do as well.  In 1899 Edward Payson Roe wrote the book Play and Profit in My Garden.  It was interesting for me to find his comments on many of the seedsmen I am following...Thorburn, Vick and Landreth for starters.

Play and Profit in My Garden
By Edward Payson Roe

The spring catalogues are now arriving, and they are enough to give one a perfect fever over gardening. Lying before me is one that is a marvel of good taste and beauty, sent out by Mr. James Vick, if Rochester. 

In it advertising becomes a fine art. So suggestive and accurate are the engraving of vegetables, and especially the flowers, that we recognize old friends at a glance, and the latter stand out so clearly on the page, that it would seem that we could gather them into a bouquet. In sending out thousands of such catalogues, or rather pretty little volumes of one hundred and thirty two pages, Mr. Vick may justly be regarded as a public benefactor, for they cannot fail to greatly increase the love for rural life; and they certainly impart much practical instruction in regard to it, while at the same time offering for sale the varied contents of the largest seed store in the world.

Looking as if it "meant business," R. H. Allen & Co.'s Catalogue, with its sober, solid appearance, catches my eye. It is an old friend, and has laid on my table every spring for ten years or more. Direct, simple, plainly indicating the best varieties among the many candidates for favor, it always inspires confidence. How often in the wane of winter I have looked through its pages, and marked the kinds I decided upon raising.

I can assure the ladies that the bliss of looking through the fashion-plates and ordering the spring styles, is not to be compared with the deliberation on the seeds you intend raising. Then only less welcome, because less familiar, are the catalogues of Peter Henderson, B. K. Bliss & Sons, Thorburn & Co., Bridgeman, Flemming, Landreth, Briggs & Brother, and others; and between them you are like a gourmand, who, instead of being invited to sit down to one feast, has placed before him a dozen banquets at the same time, and is bewildered how to choose.
As by a winter fire we turn over these dainty pages, what visions they conjure up to the imaginative amateur ! "Conover's Colossal Asparagus!"  How that sounds! but from brief trial I am coming to the conclusion that it does not sound too large. Farther on, the eye is

startled by "Egyptian Blood " oh!  “Egyptian Blood Turnip Beet, the earliest variety grown," and we breathe freer. What names they give these innocent useful vegetables! Why "Egyptian Blood”?  Who wants so sanguinary an association while weeding his early beets?  Now here is something sensible: "Large Flat Dutch Cabbage." That is very appropriate. The carrot list commences badly. "The Early Horn!" I hope none of my readers take it, early or late. Then here is "Carter's Incomparable Dwarf Dark Crimson Celery." Such a name as that certainly requires a carter. "Early Russian" or "Rushin," as it is generally pronounced, is a good name for a fast cucumber, but I protest against "Blue Peter Pea."  I told you the onion was irrepressible and supreme in every age ; for see, they have named the last variety discovered, "New Queen," and I promise you she will maintain her rank when so many of her degenerate sisters are losing theirs. Other queens may frantically sway their sceptres in vain, but a breath from her will cause many to grow sick and faint. Long live the new Queen—onion. For the sake of our Democratic friends, I will add that she is described as having a " white skin." Here is something called Scorzonera. The idea of asking your youngest child if he would take some of that for dinner! We come next to a squash called " Hubbard," probably in honor of the good old lady of that name, in hopes that her "cupboard" will never be "bare" of the delicious pies it makes. 

Strange! here is one called the "Boston Marrow". The profanity of suggesting in faintest allusion that the marrow of Boston enters in a squash! We hardly know what we are coming to in the way of Tomatoes. Every year there are several novelties so far superior (according to the catalogues) to anything else known, that it would seem perfection might be reached in this vegetable, if nothing else earthy. Two or three years ago, we had a variety named General Grant, indicating that all competitors were vanquished. We bought General Grant, sowed it, hoed it, and ate it, and were satisfied. General Grant didn't disappoint us—never. It was a good tomato, solid all the way through; and though not so large as some others, was very prolific. We hoped to "have peace" on the tomato question. But so far from being satisfied, like the people, with the great namesake for eight years, the seed-growers all proved Liberal Republicans on the tomato question, and every spring new candidates are pressed upon us. And now, Mr. "Smith" has sent out a novelty that renders it almost impossible to wait till next July before seeing the wonder in fruit. The only thing that can be done at present is to buy the seeds at twenty-five cents per half dozen or so.

Tomorrow's Blog - The General Grant Tomato

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Flower Shell: Blast Your Way to a Better Meadow!

I don't care if this is a fantasy or is darned cool.  Folks who like to go bang but not kill anything could stalk around and have a great time! Their website has some more graphics and videos.

(  does not exist anymore. July 2017) 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Philadelphia's John Wanamaker Delivers The Seeds

While mail service has certainly gotten poorer since I was a kid when mail came through our door's mail slot twice a day, as a country we are way ahead of where we were before 1890.  65% of Americans lived in rural areas where if you wanted your mail you rode to town to get it.

But the day came when mail came to almost everyone.  On October 1, 1896, rural free delivery (RFD) service began in Charles Town, Halltown, and Uvilla in West Virginia. Within a year, 44 routes were operating in 29 states.

It must have been an incredible feeling of being connected to the world!  Rural Free Delivery, championed by John Wanamaker, who served as Postmaster General from 1889 to 1893, embodied a service to the people who deserved as much as the city dwellers enjoyed, and also as a boon to business men (like Wanamaker himself) who saw the 41 million people as an under-tapped market.

Mail order made the seed business thrive. I have been collecting images of company letterheads.
First is some fun stuff, then the older, more sedate examples.

Rice has the coolest stationary I have bumped into!! This is 1895.

Twelve years later!  It would make my day to get this in the mail!! 

 Back again to 1895... 1915 cow horn?

 This 1876 letterhead looks the way I thought it should - mixed fonts and gewgaws.

I feel snoopy when I read old letters.  It feels oddly exciting...time traveling.

Never occurred to me anyone had to buy a horse chestnut!

Color!  But this is a nice reminder of why word processors are a good idea...or even ball point pens.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

More Misses, Not From Minneapolis

Miss Martha Hiser  
Miss Ella Baines 
Miss Mary Martin 
This is from her earlier catalog and ads.

Miss Mary was from Floral Park, New York. That's on Long Island where Thorburn was,too.
Miss Martha was from Urbana, Ohio.     
Miss Ella was from Springfield, Ohio.  

Download catalogs:
Hiser (1900) (1900)
Baines (1897) (1915) (1917)
Martin (1901 plants but really jolly to look at) (1902 Nice!) (1903)

There are many PDF catalogs online.

It was a surprise to find both Martin and Hiser on one page in Home and Flowers!

Miss Martin gives her fans pictures of herself more often than the other women.  I wondered if women would rather have seen her planting something in more practical clothing.  Or, did seeing a successful business woman appeal as much, or more?  

Miss Ella may have been a churchwoman.  She is puffed in church magazines; another is in 1922. 


"I do not sell cheap seeds.  I do sell seeds cheap"

Monday, January 27, 2014

An Unfortunate Seed Ad

Unless kudzu turns out to be the biofuel of the future, this seed ad certainly goes in the "If We Only Knew Then..." hall of fame.


The stuff is making its way north.  I can't believe it has recently been found in Marblehead, Massachusetts!!!! That is north of me.  Eek.

Following is an example of use of the vine in 1882ish.

First picture is BEFORE kudzu.

Here is the home after kudzu!

I like the last sentence in the 1891 description above.

For a fuller history of how it came to be here, go to Wikipedia. "The kudzu plant was introduced to the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Kudzu was introduced to the Southeast in 1883 at the New Orleans Exposition."

"Known as “the vine that ate the South”, kudzu, an invasive, fast-growing vine, is pervasive in the southern US.  The vine is of particular concern because it smothers and kills nearby vegetation including trees. So far, frigid winter temperatures have prevented the widespread expansion of kudzu into northern latitudes.  But that could all change.
“Kudzu is not very tolerant of winter frosts,” says Bradley.  “What if it’s two degrees warmer?  Twenty to thirty years from now, if we get enough warm winters, what happens to the New England forest?”
Climate models based on current climate trends predict an increasing range of risk for kudzu (  In one hundred years, according to the models, kudzu and other invasive plants may have a stranglehold on the beloved New England forests." Go to this U.S. Fish and Wildlife site to view a very nice animated graphic showing land area in jeopardy!

"The planting of kudzu in the 1930s by the U.S. Department of Agriculture demonstrates what mistakes can be made if we do not examine the consequences of quick solutions. Kudzu is found
throughout the eastern states and is moving northward. Like all plants, it has the ability to continue to adapt. It is now found in Northern Illinois. The key reason it is not being controlled in southern states is the prohibitive cost of controlling millions of infested acres. Our only hope is to contain it and stop it on sight!" The Minnesota Native Plant Society Newsletter

A paper by Kenneth W. Cote, Nursery Inspector, Indiana DNR, Division of Entomology and Plant Pathology in 2005 does a great job explaining the problem with photos and facts.

Mr. Olmsted's company: