University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Nineteenth-Century Rochester Fruit and Flower Plates

Volume XXXV   • 1982
Nineteenth-Century Rochester Fruit and Flower Plates*

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Rochester, New York, was a leading American nursery center. Auxiliary to the nursery businesses, there developed allied enterprises, one of which was the production of colored fruit and flower prints designed to aid nurserymen and their travelling salesmen sell plants. This business in nurserymen's plates, as these prints were also termed, flourished until changes in marketing nursery products and the increasing use of colored illustrations in nursery catalogues caused its decline. By the early years of this century, the production and use of these plates was ending.

A typical nurserymen's color plate was approximately 9 by 12 inches or the smaller "pocket size" of 6 by 9 inches, which was introduced in the early 1870's. Each pictured a specimen of fruit, flower, shrub, ornamental tree, or, occasionally, a hardy vegetable such as rhubarb. Under the illustration would be its name, perhaps a brief description of its attributes (as much for the benefit of the salesman as the potential customer), and the name (and often city) of the producer of the plate. These plates were generally printed on heavy paper stock to withstand wear.

A nursery firm or salesman could purchase plates in a variety of ways: individually, as bound assortments, or as collections in portfolios. If he wished he could select an assortment illustrating the stock he was selling and have it bound. Often he would select plates produced by various firms. If he wished to change the assortment or replace worn or damaged plates, special bindings could be had that made such substitutions easy.

The earlier plates were either hand-colored lithographs or a variation of the theorem technique of using stencils with details added freehand. All of these plates were bright and colorful; some had simplified designs which were almost abstract in quality. The first Rochester chromolithographic company began in 1871, and sometime thereafter local firms began to use this method to produce less expensive plates. For at least a part of the 1870's D. M. Dewey carried a small line of inexpensive wood engravings printed in colors by George Frauenberger. By the end of the century, plates were also created by the photomechanical reproduction of photographs.

Fruit and flower plates were not inexpensive. In 1860, for example, Thomas Wright was charging 35¢ each for lots of 100. In 1872, Dewey's plates were 25¢ and 37½¢ each for the regular-size plate (9 by 11½ inches) which could be trimmed to smaller sizes, such as 6 by 8 inches. In the Rochester Lithographing and Printing Company's large 1888 catalogue (essentially D. M. Dewey's last catalogue), "hand-made" (stencilled) plates cost 18¢ in the large size (9 x 11 inches) and 8¢ in the pocket size (6 by 9 inches). Chromolithographic plates cost 5¢, and the company's few "photograph" plates ("a decided novelty in fruit plates") cost 12¢ each. They would create plates from a supplied specimen at $1 for the first copy and the "regular price for all after." Their "Cheap Plate Book" contained 40 plates and sold for $3.50, while their regular plate books contained 70 plates and sold for $7.

Although fruit and flower plates were produced in other places, Rochester appears to have been a center for the business. D. M. Dewey laid claim to originating the concept in the late 1850's by adapting, as he later said, "the colored fruit plate to the practical use of nurserymen, in selling their stock." By the 1880's and into the 1890's, more than a half dozen firms were active in Rochester. Some, such as J. W. Thompson & Co., produced only one type of plate, while others such as the Rochester Lithographing Company produced plates using several of the techniques.

The major nineteenth-century Rochester plate firms were D. M. Dewey, the Rochester Lithographing and Printing Company (with which Dewey merged in 1888), and the Stecher Lithographing Company. A second group of somewhat smaller firms was (in roughly chronological order) E. Darrow & Brother, D. W. Sargent, J. W. Thompson & Co., George Frauenberger, W. H. Medcalf & Co., C. M. Search & Co., Karle & Co., Charles F. Nicholson, M. Brunswick & Co., and Vredenburg & Co. A third group (of which some were perhaps just distributors)-Lorenzo Kellogg, Thomas Wright, Mrs. Julia Van De Mark, George T. Fish, and Austin P. Baldwin & Co.-was so small that it is difficult to evaluate their role today.

In the following section a short historical sketch is given for each of the producers/distributors listed in the three groups above. The Rochester city directories have been invaluable in compiling this section, for beginning in 1871 and continuing into the twentieth century their classified business section contained the entry "Fruit Plates" and, usually, the entry "Nurserymen's Plates." The alphabetical entries and advertisements in the directories have also been invaluable. Useful too have been the microfilms of Rochester newspapers at the Rochester Public Library and the University of Rochester Library, the several guides to Rochester industries that appeared in the 1880's, and the records of Mt. Hope Cemetery, where many of these people rest today.

The study is made difficult by the fact that for many of the producers of plates, be they booksellers or lithographers, this was only one aspect of their activities. Thus plates were often not specifically mentioned in advertisements or other published references to the firms. Another difficulty is that little of their ephemeral material, such as catalogues, circulars, and price lists, which would be so invaluable today in studying their history, has survived. And, except for a few chromolithographic plates with copyright dates, there is no way to readily and precisely date plates and thus draw conclusions about the companies and industry.



Austin P. Baldwin & Co.
Austin P. Baldwin (ca. 1860-Rochester, October 26, 1912) appears, according to the Rochester city directories, to have been employed by J. W. Thompson (q.v.) from 1881 to 1890. For some of those years he is listed as a clerk, for others as a printer. For a year or two afterward (1891-92), he ran a fruit plate business from his home, 14 Upton Park, before becoming a compositor for a local newspaper.

M. Brunswick & Co.
Mina (or Minnie) Brunswick (1849-Rochester, September 9, 1925) is listed in the Rochester city directories as a producer of fruit plates or nurserymen's plates from 1888 through 1920. Her first advertisement, in the 1889 directory, reads in part:

M. Brunswick & Co.,
(Formerly with D. M. Dewey),
Manufacturers of
Hand Painted Fruit and Ornamental Plates.
All of Mr. Dewey's artists have been retained by us.

Brunswick, by the 1910's, appears to have been the last producer of hand-painted (stencilled) plates in Rochester.

E. Darrow & Brother 
Erastus Darrow (Plymouth, Conn., January 29, 1823-Rochester, March 21, 1909) ran a bookstore in Rochester from January 1846 until his death. Several times during his career he had partners, including his brother Wallace from 1856 through 1866. His advertisements in the Rochester city directories from 1861 through 1867 mention his publishing fruit and flower plates for nurserymen. The Rochester Museum and Science Center Library has four of his plates, two bearing the imprint "E. Darrow & Brother" and two bearing the imprint "Darrow's Fruit and Flower Series."

D. M. Dewey 
Dellon Marcus Dewey (Cooperstown, N.Y., May 18, 1819-Rochester, January 17, 1889), a Rochester bookseller and publisher, developed and promoted the nurserymen's color plate business in the late 1850's "for the practical use of nurserymen, in selling their stock." An 1859 price list contained 275 plates; some 20 years later he had over 2,300 plates. Some of his plates were produced by others, with his imprint added. Besides individual plates, he also carried a selection of ready-made plate books.

In the mid-1870's, Dewey disposed of his bookstore to concentrate entirely upon color plates and other supplies for nurserymen. An 1881 volume on the industries of Rochester termed his a unique enterprise, saying that he kept from one hundred to two hundred thousand plates on hand, representing 2,400 varieties of fruits, flowers, shrubs, ornamental trees, etc. His premises in the Reynolds Arcade were

spacious and convenient, and here not less than thirty artists and others are employed in making drawings, paintings, etchings, photographs, etc., and in reproducing the same either for the trade regularly, or to fill special orders from Nurserymen or  Horticultural Societies.

In the spring of 1888 and less than a year before his death, Dewey consolidated his "Fruit Plate and Nursery Supplies business" with the Rochester Lithographing and Printing Company (q.v.), confident that with his stock and designs and their expertise in chromolithography they would produce "a greater variety and better plates. . .than have ever been offered before." One of his former employees, Mina Brunswick (q.v.), began her own business, advertising that she was formerly with D. M. Dewey and that she had retained all of Dewey's artists.

George T. Fish
George T. Fish (Rochester, August 2, 1838-Rochester, April 1926) is listed under "Nurserymen's Plates" in only one city directory, that for 1872. That year he also had an advertisement in the directory which mentioned fruit plates. According to the directories, he ran a nursery stock brokerage at 35 Reynolds Arcade from 1870 to 1886. It appears that he succeeded Thomas Wright (q.v.), who had a similar business at that address in the 1860's. Fish's four-page circular for 1871 (a copy of which is at the Rochester Public Library) mentions a "new catalogue of colored fruits and flowers, Just published."

George Frauenberger 
George Frauenberger (Hilbershausen, Germany, 1829-Rochester, April 18, 1899) was a wood engraver who settled in Rochester about 1855. For many years he had an office in the Reynolds Arcade and later worked from his home at 116 North Street. He did work for the agricultural periodical Moore's Rural New Yorker when it was published in Rochester; illustrations for nursery catalogues; and a series of inexpensive, colored wood engravings, which D. M. Dewey (q.v.) marketed. For example, Dewey's 1878 catalogue offers approximately 60 illustrations of trees, shrubs, and flowers "drawn from nature and printed in colors by George Frauenberger, well known to Nurserymen and Florists by his horticultural drawings and engravings for over twenty years."

Karle & Co.; Karle & Reichenbach 
William Karle (Rochester, September 19, 1854-Rochester, December 4, 1932) began his own lithographic company in Rochester in 1879. Anton Rahn was his partner for the first several years, and an 1881 guide to Rochester industries noted that Rahn & Karle had nine experienced employees, with Rahn responsible for the art work and Karle the engraving. From 1881 to 1883, according to the city directories, William F. Reichenbach was his partner. The firm was called Karle & Co. and then (1883) Karle & Reichenbach. Beginning in 1884, Karle is listed without a partner. Karle & Co. continued until 1932, when it merged with Stecher Lithographic (q.v.).

Karle never seems to have been a large producer of fruit and flower plates. They were specifically mentioned in the company's full-page color advertisement in the 1881 city directory and in a smaller advertisement in 1882. Although Karle may have continued to make them, they are not specifically mentioned in succeeding advertisements, nor was the firm ever listed as a producer in the classified section of the directory.

Elizabeth Ann Kellogg 
    See Lorenzo Kellogg.

Lorenzo Kellogg 
Lorenzo Kellogg is listed in the 1859 Rochester city directory as a fruit and flower painter at "85 Main, up stairs." His sister Elizabeth Ann Kellogg (d. Vineland, N.J., April 1, 1867) is listed that year as a horticultural painter, no business address. Both boarded with their mother at 9 Franklin Street. Lorenzo is not listed in the next (1861) directory, but Elizabeth Ann is still listed as a horticultural painter boarding at 9 Franklin. In the next directory (1863) is her last listing; she is entered as a card writer and painter.

Lithographic and Chromo Company 
    See Stecher Lithographic Company.

W. H. Medcalf & Co.
William H. Medcalf (Tilney, England, 1854-Rochester, February 17, 1921) is found as a fruit plate producer in the 1879 through 1881 Rochester city directories. In 1879, he operated from his home at 33 Pearl Street; the next two years, from 34 Smith's Block. His father, William Christopher Medcalf (1830-1922), assisted him. Afterwards, the younger Medcalf became a fruit grower and from 1895 until his death was with the Rochester Department of Parks.

Mensing, Rahn & Stecher 
  See Stecher Lithographic Company.

Mensing & Stecher 
  See Stecher Lithographic Company.

Charles F. Nicholson (1880's); Nicholson Co. (1890's)
Charles F. Nicholson (Plymouth, England, 1857[?]-Rochester, March 15, 1952) is listed as a fruit plate and/or nurserymen's plate  producer in the Rochester city directories, 1884-88 and 1891-97. In the  1880's his business was at 14 Sheridan Park, in 1891 at 281 East Main  Street, from 1892 through 1896 at 233 East Main Street, and in 1897 at  75 Meigs Street. In 1890-91 he acquired J. W. Thompson & Company (q.v.); his 1891 advertisement in the city directory reads:

Nicholson Co., Successors to J. W. Thompson & Co., Manufacturers of Fruit and Flower Plates No. 281 East Main Street, Rochester, N. Y. Our Speciality-"Hand Painted Plates"

An article in the Rochester Union and Advertiser for November 10, 1896, noted that the Nicholson Company had closed the day before and that its effects were advertised for sale. The article continued:

The Nicholson Company at one time did a flourishing business. It was engaged in the preparation of colored plates for nurserymen. Lately its business has been hurt by the keen competition of rivals, who were able to turn their plates on the market by the use of less expensive methods.

Nicholson's principal business was watercolors. For at least sixty years beginning in the mid-1880's (except for a few years around the turn of the century) he manufactured watercolor tints for the photographic trade.

Rahn & Karle
  See Karle & Co.

Rochester Lithographing Company 
The Rochester Lithographing Company was founded in the 1870's by Louis Ennecker, Jr. Late in 1885, he sold his interest to Willard, Pitt, and Moore, three young Rochester businessmen. By 1887, Charles W. Vredenburg was president and a year later W. Martin Jones was president. By the early 1890's, Charles H. Wiltsie was president and Marsden B. Fox treasurer; by 1894, D. A. MacMillan was president and Fox both secretary and treasurer; and by 1897, Fox was manager and several years later president, a position he held until his death in 1933.

Without further information it is difficult to know why there was such a rapid change of management (and probably ownership) during the decade from the mid-1880's to mid-1890's. It is known that in October 1890 their plant was sold because of financial problems. One can also note that two of the presidents of the company during this period were lawyers and not lithographers.

Rochester Lithographing and Printing Company (as it was known for a few years beginning in the late 1880's) was in the nurserymen's color plate business by 1888. Beginning that year and continuing into the twentieth century, it is listed in the city directories under both "Fruit Plates" and "Nurserymen's Plates." Their advertisements in the directories frequently mention their production of plates.

In January 1888 the company began to publish a magazine, The Horticultural Magazine. The first issue contained a four-page catalogue of their "Colored Fruit and Flower Plates," which claimed "we offer the most complete assortment of desirable varieties of any manufacturer in this country" and noted that although they were currently selling some plates produced by others "we are producing new varieties every month, and shall soon be able to supply the handsomest and most perfect line of plates of all the leading sorts ever offered." They also noted that they were developing two new types of plates, the first being "a combination of lithography and hand work, securing all the minute detail and perfection of the former with the delicate shading and richness of the latter." The second was the "photographed" plate, mounted on linen, which "will outwear two or three ordinary handmade plates, for the reason that they will not easily tear or soil."

The catalogue appended to their May 1888 issue was over 40 pages, for, as its introduction noted, it incorporated the D. M. Dewey (q.v.) business. As Dewey wrote in the introduction,

I am able to announce to my many friends and customers that I have just completed arrangements with the Rochester Lithographing and Printing Co...whereby I consolidate my Fruit and Nursery Supplies business with theirs and become a stock holder and personally interested in the company.

Then follows a catalogue of about three thousand plates (over six hundred of apples alone), of which over 150 plates, including southern and western varieties, were new for the year. There was also a varied selection of ready-made plate books.

D. W. Sargent
Daniel W. Sargent (Dorset, Vermont, March 1823-Rochester, September 7, 1911) is listed in the Rochester city directories from 1870 through 1882 as a fruit plate producer/distributor. Before embarking upon his own, he had been a clerk at D. M. Dewey's (q.v.). His advertisement in the 1871 city directory reads:

Fruit and Flower Plates. 1000 Varieties. Manufactured and Sold by D. W. Sargent, Over Bank of Monroe, Exchange St., Rochester, N. Y., Next door north of Clinton Hotel.

After Sargent left the fruit plate business, he became a bookkeeper.

C. M. Search & Company
Charles M. Search (1841 or 42-Henrietta, N.Y., June 2, 1912) is found in the Rochester city directories as a producer of fruit plates from 1880 through 1900. He is listed, though, as early as the 1863 city directory as a horticultural painter. Both his mother, Elizabeth (1812-94), and his brother, Richard, are also listed as horticultural painters in the directories of that period. Richard died in 1873 at the age of 31, and his obituary in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle noted that he was a "highly respected young man" who began active life as a druggist but turned his attention to art and "embellishing floral plates in water colors." For whom they worked is not stated in the directories.

Stecher Lithographic Company 
The company was previously known as Charles F. Muntz & Company, Mensing, Rahn & Stecher (Lithographic & Chromo Company), and Mensing & Stecher (Lithographic & Chromo Company).

Chromolithography came to Rochester early in 1871 when three partners, Charles F. Muntz, Frank A. Stecher, and Anton Rahn founded Charles F. Muntz & Company. In 1874-75 when Muntz left and J. D. A. Mensing became a partner, the firm became Mensing, Rahn & Stecher. Three years later when Rahn left, the firm became Mensing & Stecher. The firm's advertisements in the city directories from 1875 through 1881 also have the phrase "Lithographic and Chromo Co." with its name.

In 1882, Mensing & Stecher opened a new, three-floor plant on St. Paul Street. Mensing and his son were in charge of the financial and office matters, while Stecher was in charge of the general management of the engraving and printing department. Late in 1886, Stecher bought out Mensing and the firm became Stecher Lithographic Company. Mensing, who had been in ill health, died early the next year at the age of 62.

Frank A. Stecher (Achen, Baden, Germany, 1849-Rochester, May 22, 1916) was a leader in the chromolithographic industry in Rochester. His firm was an important producer of nurserymen's color plates. Although it is first specifically listed as producing them in the 1888 city directory, there are earlier Mensing & Stecher plates and even earlier color work, in Vick's Monthly Magazine for example, signed by the Lithographic & Chromo Company.

An 1888 guide to the industries of Rochester noted that the firm employed 100 people and had machinery valued at $125,000. It also noted,

A leading speciality of the house is the printing of lithographic work for nurserymen, and  in this they excel, their reproductions of fruits and flowers being true to nature, even in the most delicate and difficult tints, and exciting admiration wherever exhibited.

The company continues today as Stecher-Traung-Schmidt, with headquarters in Detroit. Its Rochester plant was closed in 1980.

J. W. Thompson & Company
John Wrigley Thompson (England, 1826-East Henrietta, N.Y., February 19, 1900) produced nurserymen's color plates, according to the Rochester city directories, from 1876 through 1891. His advertisement in the 1876 directory reads:

J. W. Thompson & Co.,
manufacturers of
Fruit and Flower Plates,
over 142 East Main Street, (Palmer's Block)
Rochester, N. Y.

We are prepared to manufacture FIRST CLASS PLATES for nurserymen, twenty percent. less than any other establishment in town, and fully equal, if not superior in quality. What we ask, is an examination of our work, as it is all made under our personal supervision.

His obituary in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle noted that he was widely known and highly respected and that he had engaged "in the manufacture of colored fruit and flower plates for nurserymen's use." When he retired, Charles F. Nicholson (q.v.) took over his business; a former employee, Austin P. Baldwin (q.v.), also was in the business for a year.

Mrs. Julia Van De Mark
Although listed in the city directories during the 1860's as an artist and painter, it is in Hamilton Child'sGazetteer and Business Directory of Monroe County, N. Y., for 1869-70 that Mrs. Van De Mark is specifically listed as a fruit and flower artist (the only such entry). Her advertisement reads:

Mrs. J. A. Van De Mark, Fruit and Flower Artist, Respectfully solicits the patronage of  the nurserymen, assuring them that no painting can excel or even equal that which she offers for sale. Palmer's Block, Rochester, N. Y. First Flight of Stairs.

Vredenburg & Company
Charles Wesley Vredenburg (New Paltz, N.Y., April 2, 1855-Rochester, June 22, 1932) came to Rochester in 1880 and was associated with several firms, including Rochester Lithographing and Printing Company, in the 1880's. In the mid-1890's, he and William Karle (who also had his own firm of Karle & Co.) were associated in the firm of Vredenburg and Karle. He soon bought out Karle's interest and the successor firm, Vredenburg & Co., which first appears in the 1898 city directory, was listed as a producer of fruit plates beginning that year and continuing into the twentieth century. With a later merger, the firm became United Litho & Printing in 1910 and later United Printing & Lithographing. Vredenburg was president of that firm at the time of his death in 1932.

Thomas Wright
Thomas Meehan in the Gardener's Monthly, October 1, 1859, page 157, mentions receiving a catalogue of "Wright's Colored Plates of  Fruit for Nurserymen, Syracuse, N. Y." An advertisement in the Horticultural Advertiser (the advertisement section of the Gardener's Monthly and appended to it) for October 1860, page 4, reads "COLORED FRUIT PLATES. None but the best for sale by Thomas Wright, Nurseryman, Rochester, New York (formerly of Syracuse).  Price $35 per hundred."

Wright (July 2, 1818-Rochester, November 9, 1885) is listed in the Rochester city directories from 1863 through 1869 as a commission tree broker with an office at 35 Reynolds Arcade and a home in the town of Henrietta. Beginning in 1870 he is no longer listed at 35 Reynolds Arcade, and George Fish (q.v.) is found at that business address as a nursery stock broker.



The University of Rochester is fortunate to have eight nurserymen's color plate books as well as a number of individual plates in its collections in the Department of Rare Books, Manuscripts and Archives.

Our earliest plate book is part of the Ellwanger and Barry Collection. It appears to have been assembled in the 1870's, but it includes plates predating D. M. Dewey's popularization of fruit and flower plates. Its leather cover bears the stamp

Album of Fruit.
Ellwanger and Barry
Mt. Hope Nurseries
Rochester, N. Y.

and pencilled in the front is the notation "Sample book for office." It contains 66 plates which are 9½ by 12¾ inches, each with a paper guard sheet. The bright and colorful plates are lithographed with hand coloring. Most of the plates are captioned, but the artist or producer is not noted. However, six of the plates are signed by J. Prestele or his son G. Prestele of Ebenezer, near Buffalo, New York. With this information, they can be dated as before 1858. (The community of Ebenezer was established by a religious sect of German immigrants who later founded the Amana settlement in Iowa.) Other unsigned plates in the volume can be credited to the Presteles on the basis of style, technique, and other characteristic features.

Our next holdings, in chronological order, are a plate book and a "plate map" (as it was termed), each bearing identical stamping on the cover:

W. & T. Smith
Geneva, N. Y.
No. 87.

They are from the late 1880's. (A plate map unfolded to reveal a number of plates at a time. An 1888 catalogue described them as being "very showy.")

The plate book contains 77 stencilled plates, most being "J. W. Thompson & Co.'s Fruit and Flower Plates." They are slightly less than 5½ by 8½ inches in size. A few have only the notation "W. & T. Smith, Nurserymen. Geneva, N. Y.," but they were presumably made by Thompson especially for the nursery.

At the end of the volume are two printed pages of "Special Notes to Agents" about horticultural terms and the like. Two former owners' names, both from Camden, New Jersey, and the first dated 1889, are written on the front free-fly leaves.

The plate map, made to contain 48 stencilled plates but missing 2, unfolds to show 12 plates-two rows of 6 each-at a time, a quite spectacular presentation in its color and brilliance. Most of the plates have the Thompson imprint, and those that do not are probably also by him. Two of the plates are double-sized foldouts.

From the late 1880's we have a plate book with the cover stamping

Fred. E. Young
Rochester, N. Y.
No. 195.

Its 111 chromolithographic plates are slightly less than 5½ by 8½ inches, some having been trimmed in binding so that the text and/or illustration is affected. Almost all the plates (106) have the imprint "Stecher Lith." or some variation. Some of the plates bear a copyright date, either 1886, 1887, or 1888.

Our plate book for Brown Brothers Company, Continental Nurseries is probably from the 1890's. It is missing an initial page, perhaps the blank free-fly leaf. A leaf of text at the end contains information to agents regarding the nursery. Of its 30 chromolithographic plates, 26 bear the imprint "Rochester Litho. Co." (or some variation of this imprint), and 4 are without an imprint. Its plates are 5 ¼ by 8 ¼ inches, with some trimmed slightly so as to affect the text or illustration.

Printed on the inside of the front cover is the following message, which could be universally applied to plate book holders:

To agents:
Handle carefully,
Please use the Plate Book carefully, and do not mark the prices on the plates. Keep it in your pocket and avoid getting it wet or soiled, and by erasing finger marks each week with a piece of rubber, the plates can be kept neat and clean. The books are expensive and should have good care; besides, a clean book is more attractive.

Our second plate book in the Ellwanger and Barry Collection probably dates from the late 1890's. Its cover bears the stamping

Established 1840.
Ellwanger & Barry,
Mount Hope Nurseries.
Rochester, N. Y.

The 110 plates in the book are 5½ by 8½ inches. Most are chromolithographs, but 7 are photomechanical reproductions of photographs, and one is "hand-painted" (stencilled). Eighty-eight of the plates are by Rochester Lithographing, 19 are by Stecher, 2 have no imprint or have been trimmed, and one (the stencilled one) is by Nicholson. One plate, a Stecher, has the copyright date 1897.

Only one of our plate books has a title page; it reads

Nurseryman's Specimen Book
of American
Fruits, Flowers, Shrubs,
Ornamental trees, Roses, etc.
American Fruit and Flower Plates
Colored from Nature by
Rochester Lithographing Company, Rochester, N. Y.

The cover of this volume is stamped

Perry Nursery Co.,
Rochester, N. Y.
Geo. F. Green, Sp'l Ag't.

This volume dates from about 1900 and contains 70 plates on 68 leaves, 2 leaves having plates on both sides. The plates are about 5¼ by 8 ¼ inches, some having been trimmed in binding. Most, as one would guess from the title page, are by Rochester Lithographing, but, interestingly, there is one Stecher plate.

This plate book is unique among those in our collection in that it contains numerous plates done by each of three of the techniques: "hand painting" (stencilling), chromolithography, and photomechanical reproduction of photographs.

Our eighth plate book represents a transitional one, for it is not a plate book in the sense that it is made up of individual plates assembled and bound. Entitled Descriptive Plate Book of the First National Nurseries, Rochester, N. Y., it is dated 1900 and contains 76 pages of chromolithographs and photomechanical reproductions of photographs, sometimes several images to a page. Its introduction notes:

In issuing this handsome Catalogue Plate-Book, we have endeavored successfully to reproduce nature's beauty as near as it can be by means of the printers art. This edition was so large as to consume a car load of paper and about one year was required in publishing the book, which was designed, engraved and printed by the Rochester Lithographing Co., Rochester, N.Y.

In addition to the plate books, the Ellwanger and Barry Collection contains a number of unbound fruit and flower plates and colored nursery catalogue illustrations with original water-color designs and proof copies.

Most spectacular in their color and detail are the plates by J. Prestele and/or his son G. Prestele. Some are the original watercolors. Many are unsigned. Those that do bear an imprint are of "Amana Iowa Co. Iowa." Some others do not bear their name, but only the imprint "Lith. & cold. by Amana Society. Amana, Iowa County, Iowa."

Also among the unbound collection are 16 plates by D. M. Dewey.  They are his large-sized plates with most bearing the imprint "D. M. Dewey's Series Colored from Nature, American Fruits and Flowers." Mensing and Stecher, and Stecher, are represented by 21 plates; D. W. Sargent by one plate (bearing the imprint "D. W. Sargent, Fruit and Flower Plates, 1000 varieties"); and Karle and Reichenbach by one plate.

The collection also contains some colored wood engravings by Frauenberger. Most of these were done for a particular catalogue. Rounding out these unbound materials are some colored nursery illustrations not of Rochester origin, some identified and some not; some proofs and samples; and some European illustrations.

In closing a discussion of our nurserymen's plates, it might be appropriate to mention some lacunae. Surprisingly, considering their apparent popularity, we do not have a D. M. Dewey ready-made plate book. And, although our holdings for some producers are strong (especially for Stecher, Rochester Lithographing, and Thompson), we lack any representations of several producers such as Search and Brunswick. Three producers-Sargent, Karle, and Nicholson-are represented in our collections by only one plate each.

Unfortunately, we have no business records of these firms, nor do we have any printed advertising material such as catalogues, brochures, flyers, circulars, etc. Such material would be invaluable in telling more fully the story of these Rochester firms which once played such a "colorful" role in the American nursery industry.



"The History and Practical Use of the Colored Plate Book," reprinted from pages 12-18 of The Tree Agents' Private Guide: A Manual for the Use of Agents and Dealers, Containing Suggestions and Directions for Successful Work in Canvassing for the Sale of Nursery Stock. . . (1875), written and published by D. M. Dewey, Manufacturer of Fruit Plates, Rochester, New York.:


About eighteen years since, Mr. D. M. Dewey, bookseller, Arcade Hall, Rochester, N. Y., conceived the idea of furnishing for the nurserymen of the United States, portraits colored from nature, of the various fruits, flowers and ornamental trees, grown by them, and binding these portraits or fruit plates as they are called, into specimen books for the use of agents in the sale of nursery products. He took this idea from the mode then adopted by agents in making their sales. It was the practice with agents to carry such specimens of fruits as they could in their pockets; and also to cut out from the newspapers such wood cut illustrations as they could find, and also such colored pictures as were found in horticultural magazines, which were thrown together loose in a portfolio and carried about to illustrate the various fruits, &c., which they wished to sell. Mr. Dewey at once procured from nurserymen a list of the most popular varieties cultivated by them, and had the fruits, flowers, &c., drawn for him by competent artists; had about 150 lithographic stones made, from which impressions were taken and colored from hand. He also made about 150 other varieties which were colored entirely by hand. With these 300 varieties he issued his first catalogue for the nurserymen. The enterprise was hailed with great favor and received the immediate patronage of the nurserymen throughout the country; in fact the plate book became the essential and necessary outfit for every agent employed to sell trees. It soon became necessary to enlarge the catalogue by adding to it the popular varieties of fruits, flowers, &c., grown in all sections of the country. North, south, east and west, each producing their own special varieties, rendered it necessary to have specimens forwarded from which copies could be taken, causing no inconsiderable expense of postage and express charges to obtain the original copies correctly.

This process has now been going on for eighteen years, adding from thirty to fifty or one hundred new varieties each year to the catalogue, until it has now become the practice of nurserymen to forward as soon as ready for sale such new varieties as they wish to introduce, that accurate portraits may be taken in order to facilitate the early and prompt introduction of new varieties. Mr. Dewey's catalogue now contains over two thousand varieties, embracing all the leading popular fruits, flowers and ornamental trees grown in America, from Maine to California. He has already an investment of capital in lithographic stones, original copies and stock on hand, amounting to over $10,000. In order to supply the demand from different portions of the country, it has become necessary to carry a stock of manufactured plates on hand constantly to the number of about fifty thousand. He employs in artists and other help an average of thirty persons, among whom are several skilled German and English artists as draughtsmen and water color painters, the year round. He devotes his own personal attention to improving and perfecting these plates and plate books, making them constantly more valuable with those who are using them. The recent improvements in giving the description of the fruit on each plate, is regarded as adding at least 25 per cent. to the value of the books, especially in the hands of new agents.

The new pocket edition introduced by Mr. Dewey in 1873, meets with general approval of agents, especially of those who are canvassing in large cities. The inventor or originator of a new business, like the inventor of a new machine, always finds imitators-those who regard it honest to appropriate his inventions to their own use, or infringe on his patents. Such attempts have been made by females and others to copy Mr. Dewey's plates, his catalogues, his style of binding, &c., &c.; but the large amount of capital required in proportion to the business done, and the necessity of employing inexperienced hands, and producing inferior work, as well as the desire on the part of the purchasers to go to head-quarters and have first class work, have rendered these attempts either failures or short lived in nearly every instance. The principal nurserymen throughout the country feel their obligation to Mr. Dewey for what he has done for them in his business, and are disposed to reward him by their generous patronage.

Plate Book Talk-An experienced agent informed me that when other expedients had been exhausted for gaining the attention of a customer, he had by properly exhibiting his plate book, not only succeeding in getting the attention, but had made often very good sales. His practice was about as follows: "My dear madam, or my dear sir, (as the case may be,) I do not wish to intrude upon your valuable time, but I have with me a work of art in form of a book, made by Mr. Dewey of Rochester, which contains colored portraits from nature of many of the most valuable fruits, flowers and ornamental trees grown in this country. I would like specially to show you some of the most popular new varieties of fruits and flowers. The book is a work of art, inasmuch as the pictures are mainly colored by hand, and cannot fail to please any person of artistic taste, whether a lover of fruits and flowers or not . These pictures have been awarded several gold and silver medals, as well as the highest diplomas of various State agricultural societies wherever they have been exhibited, not only for their beauty in coloring, but for excellency in drawing and truthful portraiture of the subjects represented. They are very often sold in handsomely bound volumes for the center tables of wealthy planters, made up of the varieties of fruits, flowers, trees, &c., upon his own grounds. They are often offered as prizes for the best collections of fruits or flowers, &c., shown at horticultural society exhibitions. They are also used by the professors in several agricultural colleges of the United States, in teaching pomology to the students. I think you can hardly fail to be pleased with an examination of the book."

It is not necessary to use all of the above, but such portions of it as you may choose. If you succeed in getting an examination of the book, turn at once to some new varieties you may think the party is not familiar with and explain its peculiar qualities, &c. If there are ladies present call their attention to the new clamatis or varieties of new flowers. If the parties show an inclination to want one or two things, say to them you are about to make a delivery in the neighborhood, would have no objection to selling them any single plant they might want; but by carefully looking through the book they may possibly see half a dozen things they would like. When they begin to select, you should begin to suggest, and keep suggesting until they have made out a respectable order.

When you call on persons with a view of selling fruit trees only, confine them to an examination of the fruits; --do not waste your time in showing flowers. So when you call on ladies to sell flowers, economise your time by showing flowers only. You will find persons generally willing to examine the pictures in your book, but you should be careful always to hurry them up; confine yourself strictly to business, or much valuable time will be lost in mere picture showing.


The plates in the books are usually collated to represent the fruits, &c., as they are arranged and described in the nurserymen's catalogues, in the order of ripening, beginning with the early summer apples and following with the fall and Winter fruits, so with pears and other fruits, coming down to the small fruits, and closing the book with flowers, ornamentals, &c.

Show the first summer apple in the book; take orders for each of the summer apples. Then show the autumn and Winter fruits in their order, and by this process in getting an order for a few trees of each particular fruit of the different seasons, your customer will have a very large variety and the aggregate sale will be a large one, as the customer rarely stops to figure up until he has gone through the list. The same process may be followed with flowers, roses, &c. The roses are arranged in the plate book generally in alternate colors, for instance a red, white and yellow rose following each other. It is well to open up the three leaves containing roses of the three different colors and show the three at the same time, so that the person can see them in contrast as they would appear in blossom on the lawn, the effect being to create a desire for all three of the varieties at once; by thus grouping the roses the effect is always pleasing.

The ornamental shrubs may be treated in the same manner. It would be well for you to observe what ornamental trees the party may have in his yard, as you pass in, and call his attention especially to such varieties as you think would be best adapted to beautify his surroundings. As your catalogue contains a large number of fruits, flowers, &c., which are not represented in your book of plates, you should use the plates you have in describing these; for instance, the apple you have in the book, so with pears, other fruits and flowers, you will have something to illustrate very nearly everything you wish to sell. The objection is sometimes made to the colored plates, that they are overdrawn and too highly colored. This is a mistake; the specimens you show are usually of a large, medium size, and drawn and colored from very perfect specimens when the fruit is fully ripe and in its most perfect condition. With pears particularly, the fruit is gathered when green, and the perfection of color is only attained by a careful process of indoor ripening; hence it is not common for your customer to ever see the best specimens. The fact is that nature does her own coloring with such exquisite beauty, that it is difficult to reproduce these colors with anything like the brightest tints of the original.

The Plate Book is a costly work, averaging in price from $10 to $50 each, and with proper care should be used for years. They will, however, often get badly soiled and unfit for use in a single year. You should always handle the plates yourself with clean hands, not allowing customers with dirty fingers to soil the plates, -as a dirty, greasy, soiled book is not fit to place before a gentleman, and much less a lady. Care on your part will preserve the book from injury; keep it in order for use, as well as save the valuable property of your employer. When your book does get soiled and greasy from use, it should be cut down and have the badly soiled plates taken out, and be re-bound. When being re-bound you can add to it such new varieties as you choose. Many nurserymen re-bind these books as often as once in two years.


*I am grateful to Charles van Ravenswaay, director emeritus of the Winterthur Museum, for his help and encouragement in this study. Those readers wishing to see more examples of Rochester fruit and flower plates and learn more about D. M. Dewey are invited to enjoy Mr. van Ravenswaay's A Nineteenth-Century Garden(New York, Universe Books, 1977). Mr. van Ravenswaay has also recently completed an extensive study of the Prestele family of botanical illustrators, which awaits publication. 

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