Saturday, February 18, 2017

1892 - Samuel Wilson, Seedsman, Takes Umbrage

1892 catalog

Before modern social media there were opportunities for people to publicly disagree in mean and petty ways...only it took a month between volleys.  

 Samuel Wilson seems to have pushed the limits of "creative selling" too far for the editor of The Rural New Yorker.  This review of Wilson's 1892 seed catalog shows the already present dislike for Wilson's misleading exaggerations. 

SAMUEL WILSON, Mechanicsville, Bucks County, PA.—A large catalogue of 112 pages of seeds, etc. 
Yes, it was on pink paper.
Some years ago Mr. Wilson took exception to some of our criticisms regarding his catalogue and therefore cut our acquaintance. Still, however, his catalogue comes for review. On the cover of the present edition is the statement that the present catalogue is a price list of “garden, field and flower seeds grown and sold” on his seed farm. 

We would ask Mr. Wilson if that is not a falsehood. On page 3 is an illustration of a plant of Modoc Corn “drawn from Nature on the field where it grew.” “The stalks grow to a medium height of seven to eight feet.” The illustration “drawn from Nature in the field” shows a plant five inches tall. The ears (five in number) average two inches long. Therefore, the proportion of reduction being accurate, these ears must have been two fifths as long as the plant was tall. In other words the ears averaged at least three feet long. 

On page 73 he speaks of the Washington Climbing Blackberry as bearing “the most delicious fruit” and as being “perfectly hardy in any climate.” This has been under trial at the Rural Grounds for a number of years. The canes are not hardy even in moderate seasons, the fruit is of inferior quality. Mr. Wilson gives the size of the berries as 1(illegible fraction) inch long by 1(illegible fraction) inch in diameter. The berries of THE R. N.-Y. specimen would not average an inch in length.  
On page 112 of his catalogue he alludes to THE R. N.-Y. as a “so-called agricultural paper”, “to show how much reliance can be placed on this agricultural journal” ,“so excited the ire of this wonderful paper” etc.— quotations which may serve to show our readers that Mr. Wilson is not yet ready to accept our criticisms as having been made for his benefit as well as in the interests of the seed-buying public.

Mr. Wilson's had indeed trashed The Rural New Yorker, weaving his derision into a rabbit article!  Samuel Wilson's catalog also sold poultry and rabbits. 

To read the article click on the rabbit for the larger image.

Samuel Wilson's reply to the bad review appeared the following month in The Rural New-Yorker, prefaced by the editor, of course!

MR. SAMUEL WILSON, the seedsman of Mechanicsville, Bucks County, Pa., seems not to have lost his temper while reading our review of his catalogue— page 119, February 20. 
 Here is his reply in his own words, punctuation and orthography :
“Ed. chief R. N. YORKER. Dear sir. “please accept thanks for recent coppy “RURAL. N. YORKER, containing criticism on my 92 catalog.  will you kindly inform me if you were sober when writing said criticism and about what time in the day it was written.
Yours Resy        SAMUEL WILSON.
P. S. How did you enjoy your vacation at the Water gap, Pa., last summer.         you seemed to be troubled “with a marning headache".    Try Keelys gold cure. - S. W.”
It is just as well, perhaps, that Mr. Wilson should make merry over our review of his catalogue as that he should assume to be indignant and essay to justify what is manifestly unjustifiable.
Still, it may happen with him (if he hopes to continue his business), as it has happened with others, that he will one day have occasion to regard THE R. N.-Y.'s well-meant criticisms from a more serious point of view.    The editor of THE R. N.-Y. has not visited the Delaware Water Gap since the summer of 1887. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1876 - Samuel Wilson, Exuberant Seedsman, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Samuel Wilson's ads are delightfully odd.  He was a showman, and his claims and ad styles reflect this.    His Mole Tree ad caught my attention right away for a previous post!  

Personally, I think sticking a face in the center of the flower is sort of creepy.

This next ad, which you probably can't read any better than I can, is included as an example of the DENSE style of ad. How many words can you squeeze into your space??!!

This next melon was a mystery to me...melons all winter??  I didn't know some melons "keep", like winter squashes I guess.  There was another winter melon called Santa Claus :-)
 I did read that chickens would find the seeds a treat during the winter, and the melons also made nice "conserves" (jam).  

I can't leave out the potato that was "Beautiful as an oil painting"!!

Nonetheless, he was a large business and was one of the seedsman that exhibited at the Columbian Exposition in 1893.  He was reported as planning to show over a "hundred different types of corn or ear, over 50 varieties of wheat and hundreds of flower seeds".

Below is an excerpt from a family history.

SAMUEL WILSON, dealer in and grower of all kinds of seeds, P. O. Mechanicsville, was born in Buckingham township, in 1824, and is a son of Samuel and Hannah (Longstreth) Wilson.

He is descended on the paternal side from ancestors who originally came from Yorkshire, England, and who for several generations have been members of the Society of Friends.
Samuel Wilson was reared on the farm, and when 21 years of age engaged in the mercantile business at Newtown. Five years later he returned and in 1852 built a house on the original tract of land. The same year he was married to Maria Webster, née Burger, by whom he had three children, all living: Samuel Howard, William E. and Mary Elizabeth.
In the spring of 1876 be commenced the business of growing seeds, which he has carried on extensively. In 1885 he built a larger seed-house, and erected a three-story stone building, 35 by 60 feet. He employs a large number of hands, and has sale for seeds in all parts of the world. 

His establishment is one of the largest of its kind in this part of the country.
Mr. Wilson has served as school director nine years. He is an intelligent and enterprising citizen.

edited by J.H. Battle; A. Warner & Co.; 1887.

His successors didn't last long! They kept Samuel Wilson's  name and added "Company" to it.

For those of you who may have come to this page for more ancestry information about Samuel Wilson, here is what I edited out:
The first emigrants of the name came to America about 1683, and settled in Bucks county, and in New Jersey, opposite Bristol and Morrisville.
The first of the family in Buckingham township was Samuel Wilson, the great-grandfather of the subject of this sketch, who was born in Bucks county, January 6, 1706. He moved to Buckingham and took up a large tract of land extending to the Delaware river, and in 1731 built the older portion of the two storied stone house, near the present village of Mechanicsville. In 1729 he married Rebecca, the ninth child of Thomas Canby, whose ancestors also came from Yorkshire, England, and to this marriage were born thirteen children. Of these, the tenth, Stephen, born in 1749, remained upon the original homestead and married Sarah Blackfan, to whom were born eight children.

Of these, the second, Samuel, born in 1785, married Hannah Longstreth, and was the father of the subject of this sketch. The mother of the present Samuel Wilson was a granddaughter of Bartholomew Longstreth, who was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1679, and emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1698. He belonged to the Society of Friends, and in 1727 married Ann Dawson, who was born in London and came to America in 1710. By her he had eleven children.

The eleventh child, Benjamin, married Sarah Fussel, daughter of Solomon Fussel, and to this marriage were born twelve children, of whom the ninth child, Hannah, born in 1791, married Samuel Wilson, and had eight children, of whom but two are living: Samuel, and Margaret O., wife of Elias Paxson, of Solebury.
above: History of Bucks County, Pennsylvania: Including an Account of Its Original Exploration, Its Relation to the Settlements of New Jersey and Delaware, Its Erection Into a Separate County, Also Its Subsequent Growth and Development, with Sketches of Its Historic and Interesting Localities, and Biographies of Many of Its Representative Citizens

Friday, February 17, 2017

1893 - Columbian Exposition Seed Exhibits

My old friends...
Liberty Hyde Bailey wrote this review of the Columbian Exposition Seed Exhibits.  

I have a fondness for his writing as the first serious horticultural reference book I bought was his Standard Cyclopedia. Before the internet you felt well armed with this set of fat reference books!
The very weight of them gave you confidence you would find what you needed within their covers.

Interestingly, the great majority of his article documents the French display of Vilmorin-Andrieux & Co..  It is obvious Bailey respects their careful and scientific displays.  Most American states had displays that were charming, but were simply "floral" arrangements of seeds and agricultural products.  

The Columbian Exposition.
The Seed Exhibits in the Agricultural Building.

THE seed exhibits are divided between the Horticultural and Agricultural Buildings. In the latter, the field-seeds are supposed to be shown to the greater or less exclusion of garden or horticultural seeds. 

The exhibits of individual firms are not many, being comprised mainly in about seven entries. Nearly every state exhibit displays a variety of seeds and grains, but these are shown as purely agricultural products rather than as seed-merchants‘ supplies.

The exhibits in the Horticultural and Agricultural Buildings possess a decided similarity in general design, comprising heavy seeds in bags with a glass pane inserted in the top, small seeds placed in fancy bottles or deep glass trays, and collections of casts of varieties or types of vegetables. 
 The embellishments are usually produced by colored hangers, as banners, chromos and decorations of grains or grasses. As a whole, there is nothing unusually novel or striking in them, and they impress the visitor quite as much with their bulk or arrangement as with any useful facts which they may be supposed to teach. 

This wall decorated using grains and grasses!
Unquestionably the best seedsman's display, from an educational standpoint, is that of Vilmorin-Andrieux & Co., of Paris, in the French section of the Agricultural Building. It is different in character from all other seed exhibits in the fact that it makes no great display of mere bulk, but looks more like a section in a well-ordered botanical museum. The space devoted to this exhibit is something like twenty-five by seventy feet, enclosed by a wall or partition about ten feet high, lined with deep red cloth. These walls are hung with panels of wheat, illustrations of the farms and buildings of the firm, specimen charts showing the sugar yield of beets, and the starch yield of potatoes, and other features calculated to fasten the attention of intelligent visitors. 

One side or counter of the apartment is occupied by fourteen glass cases which contain models or casts of many representative types of vegetables and strawberries. Disposed at intervals upon the floor are swing frames and albums of lithographs of various plants, and the centre is occupied by a modest table of vegetable and flower seeds. Everything is labeled with scrupulous neatness and accuracy, and one feels that the exhibit will bear careful study.

This is NOT the Columbian Exposition, but gives an idea of Vilmorin style of display perhaps.
Save a small collection of photographs in the alcoves of the Experiment Stations’ exhibits, in the same building, here seems to be the only attempt at the Fair to show any of the results of hybridization. The name of Vilmorin has long been connected with experiments in the crossing of Wheats, and some of the graphic results are here shown in small sheaves mounted upon tastefully framed green felt.
 The casts of which there are several hundred, represent the average or normal forms of vegetables rather than unusual or gigantic specimens, and they are the best models of garden vegetables to be seen in the Exposition. They are made of a hard composition and will bear handling. It is evident, in the character of the models and their arrangements in the cases, that their first value is a scientific one in showing the variation of plants and fixing upon a conventional standard ort pe for the chief lines of development, rather than a mere display of what the firm may have to sell. The visitor will miss some of the common American vegetable types from the collection, particularly all forms of Maize, and of the large fruits which we designate as pumpkins; but he will notice others which are comparatively new to him, as the winter muskmelons, various broad beans, the long or ridge cucumbers, mammoth blanched asparagus, and an excellent display of sugar-beets. 
Nice link...
A couple of the specimen charts are unique. One comprises six glass tubes about an inch in diameter and five feet long, containing proportionate amounts of "sugar in the juice" and refined sugar in the six leading sugar-beets. The greatest yield of refined sugar is something over sixty hundred-weight per acre in the French, while the lowest is only fifty-four hundred-weight in the Gray top. Between these are, in order, Green-top, Brabant, Vilmorin's Improved, Klein Wanzleben and Early Red Skin. 
A similar method of exhibition shows the starch-yield from ten varieties of potatoes, the figures running, per acre, as follows : Giant Blue, 76.7 cwt. ; Imperator, 63.2 ; Giant Nonpareil, 48.6; Reading Giant, 42.6; Juno, 41.9 ; Aspasia, 37.5; American Wonder, 36.9; Red-skinned Flour-ball, 30.4; White Elephant, 28.2; Reading Russet, 26.7. 
Altogether, the exhibit is just such an one as a teacher of economic botany or horticulture might be supposed to collect for museum purposes.

This style of exhibit is what one expects if he knows the history of the firm which has made it. Vilmorin-Andrieux & Co. is probably the best example of a firm which combines in successful proportions the scientific and commercial impulses, and it is the only seed firm whose opinions upon scientific questions are accepted by professional botanists. 
It has been identified with botany from its inception. The exact foundation of the firm is unknown, but it is certain that in 1745 Pierre Andrieux was botanist and seedsman to Louis XV., and was in business on the Quai de la Mégisserie, in Paris, the same thoroughfare upon which the present firm is located.
 Phillipe Victoire Levéque de Vilmorin, the youngest son of a nobleman who was reduced in circumstances through the wars, came to Paris to seek his fortune, intending to practice medicine. He fell in with the botanist Duchesne, however, and became acquainted with Andrieux, and he gave up medicine for botany. In 1774 he married the daughter of Andrieux, and upon the death of the latter, in 1781, the firm became known as Vilmorin-Andrieux.  
lt acquired a national reputation under this first Vilmorin, and its influence and business relations have increased from that day to this. The elder Vilmorin died in 1804, previous to which time his son, Pierre Phillipe Andre, became a partner in the business. This son established comparative field tests of plants, and he introduced many of the trees and shrubs collected in North America by his friend, the eminent botanist Michaux. He established an arboretum, rich in American Oaks, which, after his death in 1862, the French Government made the foundation of a national school of forestry. He retired from business as early as 1845, and left the house in the hands of his eldest son, Louis Levéque de Vilmorin. Louis gave much attention to the subject of heredity in plants, and his writings in this direction are still well known to scientists. His name is also identified with the amelioration of the Sugar-beet. He died in 1860, at the age of 44, and his widow assumed a great part of the management of the business. 
The house is now in the hands of the two sons of Louis, Henri L. and Maurice L. de Vilmorin, the latter of whom is secretary of the French horticultural division of the Columbian Exposition. A young son of Henri has lately appeared before the public in the excellent little book, The Flowers of Paris. The botanical and horticultural publications of the Vilmorins are numerous and they form a prominent feature in the exhibit at the Fair.

Other seed exhibitors in the Agricultural Building are Peter Henderson & Co., Albert Dickinson & Co., of Chicago,  Samuel Wilson, Mechanicsville, Pennsylvania, James Riley, Thomastown, Indiana, The Whitney-Noyes Seed Co., and E. W. Conklin & Son, both of Binghamton, New York. These are almost exclusively field seeds, except that of Henderson, in which are shown models of the larger or coarser vegetables, as turnips, squashes, mangels and the like. Henderson & Co. also show a good line of tree seeds. A novel feature of this display is a collection of botanical specimens of the grasses and sedges used by Henderson in his lawn grass mixtures.

L. H. Bailey, Chicago, Ill.

Garden and Forest: A Journal of Horticulture, Landscape Art and...- Volume 6

1893 - Seven Seedsman at the Columbian Exposition This post contains many nice stereo views of the Agricultural Building, and information about the seedsmen named above.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

1893 - Samuel Wilson's Mole-Tree!

I love the outrageous claims you can find in old seed catalogs!  And when it is accompanied by a great illustration my day is complete.

The mole to the right has been edited by me...Samuel Wilson wasn't that tacky...but he was wasn't afraid to make a definitive statement!

It seems he rubbed a number of reviewers the wrong way, however, with his claims in this 1893 catalog.

The Mole Plant is not only desirable for ornamental purposes, but highly valuable and useful to plant in gardens or lawns infested with moles. Every one knows the trouble and loss caused by these destructive little animals, especially in the vegetable or flower garden, as well as in borders and walks.

The Mole Plant is a sure remedy for this evil. A few plants set out in places infested by moles will drive them away and keep your garden entirely clear of this troublesome pest. 
This fact has been proved in hundreds of cases where moles have been so troublesome as to almost ruin vegetable and garden plants. On our own grounds we made a thorough experiment with this valuable plant he past Summer. We had a row of a dozen planted on a piece of ground which, for years previous, had been so infested with moles as to make it almost impossible to raise a crop of anything we planted. We tried every means by trapping, poisoning, etc, and even hired a man to watch them while making their runs, so as to dig them out with a fork or spade. But all this did not seem to diminish the moles. For every one destroyed, two more came in its place.

We finally gave it up in despair until we accidentally heard of this wonderful Mole Plant. It seemed to work like a charm. The small trees were planted in the Spring and our closest observation could not discover any signs of a mole within sixty feet of these trees the whole season through. On other parts of our grounds the moles were as thick and as destructive as ever. But the grounds where these trees were planted were entirely clear of moles.  
We intend to plant then largely another year, and would recommend our customers who are troubled with moles to try this simple remedy, as it costs but little and will save them much. Half a dozen or a dozen trees would keep an ordinary size garden free from moles and save much vexation and loss.  
The plant is a biennial and easily raised from seeds which must be sown in the Fall. Besides in great value in this way, it is quite an ornamental plant ; grows to the height of two to two and one-half feet, in a perfect tree-like form, with neat and attractive foliage.
Plants, by mall, post-paid, each, 15c: 2 for 25c; 5 for 50c; doz., $1.00.

Below are some responses the ad elicited. The first is the best!   The second fills you in on more detail than you want, which can be a good thing in the long run, plus it also slams this flim-flam style of advertising.

AMONG the “novelties” which we find in the catalogue of Samuel Wilson, of Mechanicsville, Pa., is “The Mole Tree or Mole Plant.”  An illustration shows a round-headed tree loaded with fruit which seem to be about the size of apples. Beside this beautiful little tree lies a dead mole. We assume that he is dead because, first, he is lying on his back with his legs up, and, second, because he lies within a few feet of the deadly tree. 
Mr. Wilson says that a dozen trees (they grow to a height of less than three feet) “would keep an ordinary sized garden free from moles.” He says, “the plant is a biennial and easily raised from seed.” Mr. Wilson, however, fails to allude to the fine fruit borne by the tree, and he further omits to mention its botanical name or to intimate in any way to what order it belongs.
The Rural New-Yorker 1893

THE MOLE-PLANT.— Euphorbia Lathyris.

The horticultural community was interested last spring in the announcement of Samuel Wilson, of Mechanicsville, Penn., that he had a plant which will drive moles from the garden. This plant, although said to be biennial, was called the Mole-Tree, and the account was verified by the picture, which shows a diminutive tree beneath which lies the corpse of a mole.

Nothing is said by the introducer about the origin, nativity or botanical affinities of the plant. We were able to secure but one plant of the Mole-Tree, and we were so choice of it that it has been grown in the greenhouse. It turns out to be an interesting old garden plant, which has a continuous history of at least three hundred years, and which was known as a medicinal plant to Galen in the second century. It is the Caper Spurge, Euphorbia Lathyris. The name Spurge is applied to many related plants, in reference to their purgative qualities, and this particular species is called Caper Spurge from the fact that the little seed-like fruits are sometimes used as a substitute for capers. The plant is known chiefly as a household medicine, although it is used in materia medica and is figured by Millspaugh in his recent work upon American Medicinal Plants. Its use as a food plant seems, fortunately, to have ceased. Johnson, in Sowerby's Useful Plants of Great Britain, 1862, speaks of this use of it as follows: “The three-celled capsules are about the size of a large caper, and are often used as a substitute for that condiment, but are extremely acrid, and not fit to eat till they have been long macerated in salt and water and afterwards in vinegar ; indeed it may be doubted whether they are wholesome even in that state.”

This plant is a native of Europe, but it has long been an inhabitant of old gardens in this country, and it has run wild in some of the eastern states. Its use as a mole repeller is not recent. 

Pursh, in writing of the plant in 1814, in his Flora of North America, says that 
“It is generally known in America by the name of Mole-plant, it being supposed that no moles disturb the ground where this plant grows.” 
Darlington makes a similar statement in Flora Cestrica, 1837 :
 “This foreigner has become naturalized about many gardens,— having been introduced under a notion that it protected them from the incursions of moles.” 
In later botanies it is frequently called Moleplant.

I do not know if there is any foundation for these repeated statements that the Caper Spurge is objectionable to moles, but the fact that the notion is old and widespread raises a presumption that the plant may possess such attributes. The statement occurs only in American works, so far as I know. It would be interesting to know the experiences of those who have grown the plant for a number of years, for the subject is worth investigation.  

We cannot too strongly deprecate the practice of introducing plants to the public without giving purchasers definite knowledge of their history and nature, and without having detailed proof that the plants possess the virtues which are claimed for them. It would have been better in the present example, no doubt, to have submitted the plant to a botanist before introducing it, in order that its proper name and history might have been determined; and if the public is at all inclined to buy a moleplant it would have been persuaded much more by the long tradition of its virtues than by any consequential statement of its value.

The Caper Spurge is apparently biennial, although Boissier, a celebrated monographer of the euphorbias, calls it annual. The plant is very unlike in its early and flowering stages. Until it begins to branch and flower, the leaves are long linear-lanceolate, opposite, and arranged in four perfect rows down the thick, smooth stem. As this stage of the plant is rarely illustrated or described, I have introduced here a photograph of our Mole-plant as it appeared eight months after its receipt from Mr. Wilson. It was placed horizontally and an end view was taken in order to show the serial arrangement of leaves. The plant is exceedingly curious and interesting, and we shall grow it in our greenhouses as an ornamental subject. Few plants have a more novel or striking appearance. In its second or flowering stage, the leaves are ovate and shorter. 

Mr. Wilson writes me that he knew this plant in old gardens more than fifty years ago, where it had a reputation for expelling moles, but he lost sight of it until a short time since, when he again met with the plant. It was then propagated and introduced to the public.

1894 - Annual Report of the Agricultural Experiment Station, Volume 6