Some dreary and chill weather in Blacksburg lately calls for a bright and cheery post. Enter the World’s Fair Fruits catalog from Stark Bro’s Nurseries & Orchards Co. Created in 1903, the catalog included full page spreads of fruit varieties sold by the company (still in existence today and now simply Stark Bro’s). The catalog also contains detailed information on the history of the family company, established in 1816; black and white photographs of the orchards; and descriptions of the available fruit varieties. This particular Stark Bro’s catalog was produced for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 (aka the St. Louis World’s Fair) in St. Louis, Missouri.
Although not all the color images are represented here, each one is part of a two-page spread. The first four spreads feature apples. Varieties include those common today (Delicious, Northern spy, and McIntosh); those considered “heirloom” (Banana, Arkansas Black, Liveland Raspberry, and Grimes Golden); and those rarely heard of today (Early Colton, Geneton, and Ben Hur). In addition the pear/cherry and berry pages above, there are also color pages for plum varieties, more pears and cherries, peaches, and grapes. (You can imagine how hard it was to select only a few pages!)
The copy of World’s Fair Fruits here in Special Collections is one only four or five in public and academic library hands. It’s rarity aside, we just couldn’t pass up the catalog once those color images caught our eyes. We have a number of other seed and nursery catalogs in our collection and while they may, at first, seem an unlikely addition, seeds and trees are a vital component to the larger picture of food and drink history we are documenting. Knowing who was providing these ingredients, where they were growing, and how they were marketed and shared 100 years ago gives us a little insight into foods we still enjoy today.
And remember, there are likely to be wonderful (and local or uncommon) varieties of many fruits wherever you live. So, when the growing season arrives, be sure to get out there, try something new, and find a creative way to make it last all winter! Even if it means giving up half your freezer space to applesauce made in the fall (like a certain archivist/blogger here at Special Collections)–it’s well worth the effort.