An Anniversary. Plus, Some Summer and Fall Fruits

Somewhere in the hectic month of September, “What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!” celebrated it’s 4th anniversary, which only occurred to me earlier this week in the hectic month of October. (Are you sensing a theme?) Last week was our 281st post–that’s a fair amount of blogging and some days I can’t believe what started out as as experiment is still going strong! We’re not going anywhere any time soon, mind you, but I felt like it was worth mentioning. (Happy belated anniversary, What’s Cookin’!) In fact, we’re doing some new things, which I’ll be talking about soon. In the meantime, though, today’s feature item is a look something agricultural: a c.1901 Broce Nurseries fruit catalog.

This is an odd little catalog, which seems to be the best way to describe it…sort of. Unlike most bound publications, this is almost completely text-free. Other than the captions for the fruits themselves, there is no title page, no introduction, and, aside from the note on the cover, no way to identify the origins of the publication. There isn’t even an obvious way to connect the product to the nursery. That, combined with the different lithographers of the various prints, suggests it may be been bound at a later date, rather than serving as a contemporary advertising tool. On the other hand, one look at the images, and you can see why someone might go to the trouble of having them bound.

I’m also particularly fond of this item for its local ties. If you’re from the Blacksburg area, you might recognize Broce as both a historical family name and a street. A little more digging resulted in a 1912 Virginia Wholesale Nurseries catalog with some background on Broce and the establishment of the nursery in 1907-it seems Broce himself was a VPI graduate!

During the winter of 1907 and 1908 J. H. Broce, a graduate of the Department of Horticulture of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, returned to Blacksburg after extended experience in nursery-work and began the propagation of apples and peaches in a commercial way. Having had the full training under Prof. Wm. B. Alwood and others at V. P. I., he was in the best possible position to profit by this experience, and his first crop of trees grown at Blacksburg showed the result in a very successful lot of stock.

The nursery still appears in 1913 directory of American florists, nurseries, and seedmen. Unfortunately, at least at present, I don’t know how long it was in business or where it was located. On a related note, we do have some papers from Dr. Alwood in our collection, too.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re fond of full-color fruit lithographs from the turn of the 20th century, you might also check out this previous post on the Stark Bros., written back in 2012. Both of these items call to mind “Goblin Market,” the work of one of my favorite poets, Christina Rossetti. In the poem, the luscious fruits that tempt two sisters have much darker consequences than our simple catalog of nursery products, but the opening stanza conjures up similar imagery:

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
The whole poem is much longer, but you can read it, if tempted, in its entirety online. And it’s quite dangerous to let me start talking about 19th century British poetry, unless you’d like a MUCH longer blog post. 🙂 Instead, I invite you to read again next week, where we’ll take a look at a different item of agriculture production: flour.
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