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An Enterprise so Unique and yet so Undeniably Useful

March 17, 2013
Ad for Dewey's "Art Gallery"

Ad for Dewey’s “Art Gallery” from 1875 that mentions “Manufacturer of Colored Fruit Plates”

In the late 1850s, a Rochester book-seller by the name of Dellon Marcus Dewey realized that there was a growing market for colored Botanical illustrations “for the practical use of nurserymen, in selling their stock.”  Dewey called these “Colored Plates” and, employing mainly immigrant artists, over the next twenty-five years,   he built up a inventory of several thousand drawings of different varieties of plants and fruits.  Dewey’s business was devoted to supporting Nurserymen with custom catalog books when the following article was written in 1881.

Prestele Drawing of White Grape

Prestele Drawing of White Grape

The use of botanical drawing to sell nursery items was neither new nor unique.  For example: the exquisite watercolors and colored lithographs created by Joseph Prestele and his sons were already used as marketing materials by the Ellwanger & Barry Company. (Eventually, the Ellwanger & Barry collection,  now in the possession of the University of Rochester, became the  basis of an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution in the 1980s.)   But Dewey expanded the business by using production and cataloging techniques that allow mass marketing.  At first, a “Fruit Plate” was a lithograph that was a hand colored or a stenciled  “Theorem Painting” with hand drawn details.  After 1870,  chromolithography became the standard,  By the zenith of Rochester’s nursery and seed businesses as many as ten companies were creating “Nurserymen’s Plates and Supplies”.  The two foremost of these was the Rochester Lithographing and Printing Company (which merged with Dewey’s company in 1888) and the Stecher Lithographing Company. (Look for illustrated articles about each of these companies in the near future.)  It was Dewey, however,  who created this  signature Industry that broadcast Rochester’s reputation as the Flower City.  Eventually,  the many local printers of Botanical Art moved on to catalogs, seed packets and,  eventually, in  the 20th Century, to Greeting Cards and Canning Labels.  But as a growing industry, it began with Dewey’s mass produced “Colored Fruit and Flower” Plates.

D. M. Dewey, Publisher Of Illustrated Works For Nurserymen, And Manufacturer Of Plain And Colored Plates For Horticultural Works, Etc. Etc.; No. 8 Arcade

IFrontispiece to D. M. Dewey's "Specimen Book of Fruits, Flowers and Ornamental Trees"n reviewing the industrial details of numerous important cities, we have nowhere discovered an enterprise so unique, and yet so undeniably useful and necessary as that in which we find D. M. Dewey actively engaged at No. 8 Arcade.  As the originator of a separate industry which engages the labor of many workers, and requires the investment of both skill and capital,  Mr. Dewey is, with reference to his occupation, perhaps entitled to more consideration in this volume than would otherwise fall to his share. A resident of Rochester since 1833, and originally identified with the book trade for more than thirty years as proprietor of the business now conducted by Jackson & Burleigh, he entered upon his present vocation some eighteen years ago, and may therefore be considered not only as the pioneer dealer in Nurserymen’s plates, publications and requisites, but as the most proficient and experienced operator in this line of trade. Dealing exclusively with commercial Florists, Horticulturists, and Nurserymen, it is part of the business of Mr. Dewey to supply them engravings, and colored plates illustrative of American fruits, vegetables, flowers, trees and shrubbery, as fast as new varieties are propagated. This work in colors is made by processes entirely original (so far as its introduction in this country is concerned), with himself, and is the most perfect and beautiful for the purpose ever devised.

One of Dewey's Nurserymen's Plate: Sheldon Pear

One of Dewey’s Nurserymen’s Plate: Sheldon Pear. Click for Larger View.

From one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand of these plates are kept constantly on hand (to fill orders without delay), representing over twenty-four hundred varieties of the most popular, large, and small fruits, flowers, shrubs, ornamental trees, etc., grown by nurserymen in the United States and Canada, besides a series of plates illustrative of designs and suggestions for landscape gardening.

Plate books, such as are used by agents for nurserymen, are also supplied of various sizes, with the necessary printed descriptive matter, and are not only indispensable but are furnished at prices, all things considered, astonishingly moderate.  The premises occupied by Mr. Dewey in the Arcade are spacious and convenient, and here not less than thirty artists and others are employed in making drawings, paintings, etchings, photographs, etc.,  and in reproducing the same, either for the trade regularly, or to fill special orders from Nurserymen or Horticultural Societies . What gives additional value to the work which emanates from this house is the fact that all plates are as nearly as art will permit facsimile copies of the object represented, taken from actual specimens, a truth equally important to the dealer using these illustrations to sell from, or the purchaser who is less likely to suffer future disappointment.

Another Nurseryman Plate Published by Dewey: Northern Spy Apple. Click for Larger View

Another Nurseryman Plate Published by Dewey: Northern Spy Apple. Click for Larger View

In connection with this the main feature of his business, Mr. Dewey is the publisher of  Elliott’s Hand-book for Fruit Growers    and Elliott’s Practical Landscape Gardening,”   two standard works which are justly considered unrivalled in the special departments taken up for consideration.  Blanks, blank-books, order-books, catalogues and printing generally is also furnished expressly to meet the wants of Nurserymen, such as plain and printed wood labels, Judson’s polished wood labels, printed shipping tags, Dewey’s label pencil for writing on wood, Nurserymen’s grafting, budding and pruning knives,  steel garden spades,  Dewey’s improved pruning saw (very useful), strawberry protectors, the Western Tree Digger, pruning shears, etc., besides which all kinds of supplies are purchased to order for distant buyers at lowest attainable prices and without charges for commissions.  A handsome octavo catalogue of between sixty and seventy-five pages is required to place the business, in a comprehensive form, before the reader, and to this we refer him, simply stating in conclusion that any applications made for information to D. M. Dewey will meet with prompt and satisfactory responses, while all orders or business commissions will receive equal attention.

Commerce, Manufatures & Resources of Rochester, N. Y,  A Descriptive Review (1881)

From: Commerce, Manufatures & Resources of Rochester, N. Y,  A Descriptive Review (1881)

For more information on the Fruit and Flower Plate Industry in Rochester, See:
University of Rochester Library Bulletin, Volume XXXV; 1982; “
Nineteenth-Century Rochester Fruit and Flower Plates” by Karl Sanford Kabelac

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