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Vintage Seed Packets

With their bright colors and period typography, old-fashioned seed packets provide tantalizing whispers of garden promises past.
  • Photography by Kindra Clineff

    Seed Packet History

    Putting seeds in packets started with the Shakers in 1812. Before then, seeds were sold by weight, measured out for each customer from bulk bins. The Shakers suspected that garden seeds were something backyard gardeners might want, especially if sold in convenient envelopes. So they began bringing wooden display boxes filled with their packets to village stores. In keeping with their no-frills philosophy, Shakers’ packets were plain and handwritten and their emphasis was firmly on vegetables and herbs; flowers solely for beauty’s sake were forbidden. But they found ways around that restriction—marigolds, calendulas, and many other flowers could fall into the useful category. Other seed merchants soon copied the Shaker idea, using the full gamut of seeds.

    Date Published: December 20, 2016
    Date Updated: December 20, 2016
  • Timeless Illustrations

    Similar nasturtium illustrations on a new seed packet, a vintage French seed label, and a 1915 packet from Burt’s Seed Company.

    Date Published: December 20, 2016
    Date Updated: December 20, 2016
  • Primary Colors

    By the early 1900s, seeds were appearing in five-and-dime stores, strategically positioned behind the sales counter. That’s when seed houses harnessed the power of seduction from a distance, realizing that colorful packets could ramp up sales. Early chromolithographed packets were generally printed in primary colors.

    Date Published: December 20, 2016
    Date Updated: December 20, 2016
  • Native Seeds

    The Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron, Nebraska, preserves native American crops used to provision trading posts including a prolific pumpkin from the Omaha Tribe obtained in the early 1900s.

    Date Published: December 20, 2016
    Date Updated: December 20, 2016
  • Generic Packets

    From 1930 to 1950, lithographers produced standardized packets emblazoned with identical art. Smaller seed companies bought the stock and added their name to the graphics. This generic tomato seed packet would have been customized with a company name eventually.

    Date Published: December 20, 2016
    Date Updated: December 20, 2016
  • Seed Company Names

    The names of seed packets often came from the area they were produced or the name of the enterprising gardener who collected them. Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was once known as “America’s Garden Spot,” hence Garden Spot Seeds. Burt’s Seed Company was started by W. D. Burt—a teenager who found his career as a seedsman after planting giant pumpkins and selling seeds to neighbors.

    Date Published: December 20, 2016
    Date Updated: December 20, 2016
  • Mouse-Chewed Packets

    Mice adore seed packets as much as collectors do. Telltale mouse nibbles on this Drumhead (aka Flat Dutch) cabbage packet reveal a tale of their own.

    Date Published: December 20, 2016
    Date Updated: December 20, 2016

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