UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER LIBRARY BULLETIN
Volume XXXV • 1982
Nineteenth-Century Rochester Fruit and Flower Plates*
--KARL SANFORD KABELAC
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.
M. Brunswick & Co.
Brunswick, by the 1910's, appears to have been the last producer of hand-painted (stencilled) plates in Rochester.
E. Darrow & Brother
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
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
Karle & Co.; Karle & Reichenbach
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 Stecher Lithographic Company.
W. H. Medcalf & Co.
Mensing, Rahn & Stecher
Mensing & Stecher
Charles F. Nicholson (1880's); Nicholson Co. (1890's)
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:
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
Rochester Lithographing Company
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,
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:
After Sargent left the fruit plate business, he became a bookkeeper.
C. M. Search & Company
Stecher Lithographic 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,
The company continues today as Stecher-Traung-Schmidt, with headquarters in Detroit. Its Rochester plant was closed in 1980.
J. W. Thompson & Company
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's Gazetteer 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:
Vredenburg & Company
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.
UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER HOLDINGS
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
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:
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
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:
Our second plate book in the Ellwanger and Barry Collection probably dates from the late 1890's. Its cover bears the stamping
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
The cover of this volume is stamped
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 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.:
THE HISTORY AND PRACTICAL USE OF THE COLORED PLATE BOOK.
*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.
Return to Top