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James Vick on “the Largest and Best Regulated Seed House in the World”

January 1, 2013
Cover of Vick's 1873 Floral Guide

Cover of Vick’s 1873 Floral Guide in which Vicks’s  article was originally published

James Vick, born in 1818,  arrived in America from Portmouth, England , with his parents in 1833.  By the time he came to Rochester, in  1837, he had acquired skills as a printer and writer.  During the 1840s and early 1850s, Vick edited and then bought the popular journal The Genesee Farmer.   After selling the “Farmer”, he purchased the illustrated  “The Horticulturist” journal and for three years published this  with Patrick Barry serving as Editor.   As a byproduct for his own requirements of high seed, Vick also started importing and the growing his own seed stock.   Vick’s two related passions, horticultural journalism with additional emphasis on botanical art, and his desire to share his love of gardening combined to build his mpire based around the seed store and printing house that he created on State Street.   By the 1870s,  Rochester’s Seed House’s enterprise rivaled the success of the City’s Tree, Fruit and Shrub Nurseries, as, for examples, Vick’s operations had become the largest in the world.  The article below is from pages 21-24 of one of Vick’s beautiful “Floral Guides”  -this one was published by him in 1873.  By the time he wrote about his business, Vick was very well known nationally – one reason being the hundreds of thousands of copies of his Floral Guides sent out annually, at first. and then quarterly.    Within a few years of this report, Vick would begin publication of his own branded horticultural Journal, an illustrated Monthly that included advice, a monthly Chromolith (“Painted for James Vick”) and reports from around the world of gardening and plants.  As you will read, Vick created even more engravings illustrated his Seed House operation than he published here.  If we come across more details…we will bring them to the Scrapbook.

Vick Store and Processing Center on State Street in Rochester, NY

Vick Store and Processing Center on State Street in Rochester, NY


It is acknowledged that I have the largest and best regulated retail Seed House in the world.  It is visited by thousands every year from all parts of this country, and by many from Europe, and 1 take pleasure in exhibiting everything of interest or profit to visitors.  As hundreds of thousands of my customers will probably never have the opportunity of making a personal visit, I thought a few facts and illustrations would be interesting to this large class whom 1 am anxious to please, and be, at least, an acknowledgement of a debt of gratitude for long continued confi­dence, which I can feel, but not repay.

Inside the Store

Two Catalogues are issued each year, one of Bulbs in August, and on the first of December a beautiful Floral Guide:, of 130 pages, finely illustrated with hundreds of engravings of Flowers and plants and colored plates. Last year, the number printed was three hundred thousand at a cost of over sixty thousand dollars. In addition to the ordinary conveniences of a well regulated Seed House, there is connected with this establishment a Printing Office, Bindery, Box Making Establishment, and Artists’ and Engravers’ Rooms. Everything but the paper being made in the establishment.

Store Front of James Vick's Seed House

Store Front of James Vick’s Seed House

To do this work fully occupies a building four stories in height (besides basement) sixty feet in width, and one hundred and fifty feet in length, with an addition in the upper story of a large room over an entire adjoining block.


The large basement is arranged with immense quantities of drawers, &c., for storing Bulbs.  Here, too, are stored the heavier kinds of Seeds, in sacks, &c., piled to the ceiling.  The heavier packing is also done here.


The first floor is used entirely as a sales-shop, or “store,” for the sale of Seeds, Flowers, Plants and all Garden requisites and adornments, such as baskets, vases, lawn mowers, lawn tents, aquariums, seats, &c., &c.  It is arranged with taste, and the songs of the birds, the fragrance and beauty of the flowers, make it a most delightful spot in which to spend an hour.

Vick Order Room

The Order Room – Click for Bigger View


On the second floor is the Business and Private Offices, and also the Mail Room in which all letters are opened. The opening of letters occupies the entire time of two persons, and they perform the work with astonishing rapidity – practice making perfect – often opening three thousand in a day.  After these letters are opened they are passed into what is called the Registering Room, on the same floor, where they are divided into States, and the name of the person ordering, and the date of the receipt of the order registered.  They are then ready to be filled, and are passed into a large room, called the Order Room, where over seventy-five hands are employed, divided into gangs, each set, or gang, to a State, half-a-dozen or more being employed on each of the larger States.  After the orders are filled, packed and directed, they are sent to what is known as the Post Office, also on the same floor, where the packages are weighed, the necessary stamps put upon them, and stamps cancelled, when they are packed in Post Office bags furnished us by Government, properly labeled for the different routes, and sent to the Postal Cars.  Tons of Seeds are thus dispatched every day during the business season..

The Packing Room

The Packing Room


Here is the German Department, where all orders written in the German language are filled by German clerks; a Catalogue in this language being published. On this floor, also, all seeds are packed, that is, weighed and measured and placed in paper bags and stored ready for sale.  About fifty persons are employed in this room, surrounded by thousands of nicely labeled drawers.


On this floor are rooms for Artists and Engravers, several of whom are kept constantly employed in designing and engraving for Catalogues and Chromos. Here, also, the lighter seed are stored.  In a large room adjoining, is the Printing Office, where the Catalogue is prepared, and other printing done, and also the Bindery, often employing forty or fifty hands, and turning out more than ten thousand Catalogues in a day. Here is in use the most improved machinery for covering, trimming, &c., propelled by steam.

Vick's Fourth Floor Bindery

The Bindery


The immense amount of business done may be understood by a few facts: Nearly one hundred acres are employed, near the city, in growing flower seeds mainly, while large importations are made from Germany, France, Holland, Australia and Japan.  Over three thousand reams of printing paper are used each year for Catalogues, weighing two hundred thousand pounds, and the simple postage for sending these Catalogues by mail is thirteen thousand dollars.  Over fifty thousand dollars have been paid the Government for postage stamps last year.  Millions of bags and boxes are also manufactured in the establishment, requiring hundreds of reams of paper, and scores of tons of paste-board.  The business is so arranged that the wrappers are prepared for each State, with the name of the State conspicuously printed, thus saving a great deal of writing. as well as preventing errors.

I had prepared several other engravings of German Room, Printing Office, Artists’ Room, Counting Room, Mail Room, Post Office, &c., but have already occupied quite enough space give readers somewhat of an idea of the character of my establishment.  Another year, I may give further particulars.

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