In the late 1800’s, commercial nurseries hired salesmen to travel the country and take orders for trees and shrubs for the following spring.
And what’s a traveling salesman without samples of his wares?
This is a traveling salesman’s satchel that held plate-books to show perspective clients. The beautiful illustrations of fruits, flowers and ornamental trees were meant to seduce.
And I think they still do. Salesmen were warned to maintain their sample books carefully because ” a dirty, greasy, soiled book was not fit to place before a gentleman, and much less a lady.” [from For Shade and for Comfort: Democratizing Horticulture in the Nineteenth-Century Midwest., p.139.] Judging from the quality of this plate from a flipbook owned by the Andersen Horticultural Library, I’d say the salesman took that admonition to heart.
This engaging exhibit was put together by the Andersen Horticultural Library at my local landscape arboretum. The richness of the colors against the realistically detailed drawings was fabulous. While I’m often inspired by the photographs in gardening catalogs, these salesmen’s plates are in a class by themselves —more art than commerce, and worth the trip if you ever have a chance to see them.