Colorful and historical, vintage seed packets and boxes are appealing works of art that offer unique ways to collect and decorate.
Well-preserved seed packet specimens hold collectible value as tiny works of art. But beyond their visual appeal, many also offer historical insight into botanical varieties that are now quite rare or even extinct.
Art for seed packets was originally created by lithographers, using a time-consuming technique called stippling. A pen with a needle point would create individual dots, which in turn comprised the image.
When collecting seed packets, you may find the same image is used on packets from different companies. This is particularly noticeable on 1930-1950s era seed packets, when Schmidt Lithography Company was the major printer of seed packets. The lithograph companies would print the packets with just the image of the flower or vegetable and later print the company name as the packets were ordered. Note the number (No. 621) on the bottom flap of the packet, which is the number associated with this lithographic design.
The Card Seed Co was established in Fredonia, NY, in 1908. From the available information, it seems the company went out of business in the 1920s. Their early seed packets, like this watermelon example, featured simple lithography illustrations on off-white paper. These date from c. 1908 to 1917.
R.H. Shumway is an heirloom seed catalog that was started in 1870 in Rockford IL and by 1925 was the largest mail order seed company in the world. The business was in Rockford until the late 80’s when it was purchased and moved to South Carolina. Since this packet is illustrated with a Schmidt Lithography image, it can be dated circa 1930s-1950s.
To display as art, assemble seed packets with similar imagery styles or typography. Create a larger impact with a group of frames arranged in a grid. Harmonize frames with vibrant spray paint before adding packets.
When collecting packets look for price stamps to help determine age. Listed prices on the examples in this display rack range from 25 to 59 cents. Older seed packets from Lagomarsino & Sons (above) have a printed price of 10 to 15 cents.
Like seed packets, vintage seed boxes are popular collectibles. If yours is sturdy, put it to work holding supplies on a potting bench or in a shed, or use it indoors as a decorative silverware caddy or bar accessory. But keep the lid up to enjoy the colorful graphic inside.
The dating on this seed box relies on the company’s history. The Sioux City Nursery & Seed Co. in Sioux City, IA, was organized in 1883 originally as a nursery and gradually expanded into seed production. The company was renamed the Sioux City Seed Company in 1910 when the nursery business was bought out by Whiting Nursery Company, who transferred their own seed business to Sioux City.
Botanical prints are collectible pieces of art, wherever they may be found. This fragile beauty lines the inside of a vintage seed box, which has slotted wood dividers for retailers to display the seed packets.
An artistic representation of pansies enlivens the detached lid of an old seed box. Faint type in the upper left corner offers the “Study of Pansies without lettering” in a 12×16-inch size for 15 cents or for less if purchased with an order of seed.
Inside the bottom rim of the seed box lid is a listing of all the seed varieties that were on offer for five cents each. W. J. Mandeville started a seed business in 1876 and partnered with H. S. King, in 1878. By 1888, Mandeville & King, on East Avenue in Rochester, NY, was shipping seeds of every description all over the United States.
The Rush Park Seed Company was organized and incorporated in Independence, IA, in 1889. The dovetailed white pine box was either a crate used to ship seed or would have had dividers originally to display organized packets of seed for sale.
The chromolithographed paper label on the interior of the lid with a scene of harvested vegetables and fruit remains vibrant a century later.
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