Vintage Finds: Old Seed Catalogues and the Blocks That Were Used to Print Them

Dominion Seed Vintage Seed Catalogue Dominion Seed Vintage Print Block

It may come as no surprise that in addition to plants, I also collect things that are connected to the world of plants and horticulture in some way: old books in the categories of gardening, botany, or nature; prints that feature images of plants, birds, insects, and other things of a scientific nature; old gardening products and packages; vintage seed packets, catalogues, and ephemera; plates, cups, and other dinnerware with botanical motifs; and still other things not related to plants at all… the list goes on and on. From my background in graphic design and art comes an interest in printing processes of a bygone era, the result of which is a small printing press, and a collection of assorted metal and wood print blocks and type. What don’t I collect? The only honest answer I can give is things that do not catch my eye.

I am shocked that in the 13 years I have published here I have only featured some of these little gems a handful of times. Recently, as I shifted all of my gardening books from my office to a room with more shelving space, I rediscovered all manner of interesting old things that had become lost in the fray. As a life-long advocate of Show and Tell, it occurred to me that I should share some of these interesting bits and bobs here. And so I will.

I begin with a recent find, purchased just last weekend at the last flea market of the season. At first I spotted the seed catalogues: 1930s and 40s era booklets advertising the wares of Dominion Seed House, a local company that is still in existence.

Dominion Seed Vintage Seed Catalogue

The catalogues I selected (I did not buy all of them) are mostly black and white with a few colour pages. They feature the cheap, off-registration printing typical of seed catalogues of that era, which I happen to love.

Dominion Seed Vintage Seed Catalogue Dominion Seed Vintage Seed Catalogue

I particularly love this page dedicated to cacti. The illustrations are great. I would even like to buy a few of these plants. And why not at those prices!

Dominion Seed Vintage Seed Catalogue Dominion Seed Vintage Seed Catalogue

I was particularly surprised to see West Indian Burr gherkin advertised.

I combed through the pile of catalogues and made by selections, and then, as my eyes wandered, I noticed several printing blocks of assorted sizes that appeared to have a botanical theme. It turns out that they are the blocks that were used for these very catalogues!

Dominion Seed Vintage Print Block
This is a close-up a large, full-page block that you can see in full at the top of this page (second image).

Dominion Seed Vintage Print Block
This is my favourite block. It features a person standing next to a giant brassica. I looked through all of the catalogues I bought and unfortunately this image does not appear in any of them. The seller said that he used to have a huge pile of catalogues and these were the last of the lot.

Dominion Seed Vintage Print Block
This is a full-spread block. It is curved because it would have fit onto a drum-like press that turned as the paper printed.

Dominion Seed Vintage Print Block

The seller had a few small blocks remaining that I did not purchase — primarily line drawings of roses. The last item I chose with this old pea seed packet.

Dominion Seed Vintage Seed Package

It’s a large packet and my guess is that this was not a size typically meant for backyard gardeners. As you can see, the seeds were treated with some sort of fungicide. The packet has a powdery feeling about it and I am eager to put it in a frame so I can avoid touching it with my hands.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

Subscribe to get weekly updates from Gayla

12 thoughts on “Vintage Finds: Old Seed Catalogues and the Blocks That Were Used to Print Them

  1. beautiful, I love the J.L.Hudson catalogue, very old time feel

    concerning your overabundance of plants (too many to be overwintered),
    try listing them on the free section of craigslist or on freecycle,
    I’ve given away many plants or cuttings,
    people are always happy to take them away,
    my last batch I gave to my sister-in-law who is a teacher
    in a new classroom
    with a big sunny window

  2. Great Post! I love reading about collecting and collections almost as much owning them. There is always so much to see and learn.

  3. Love the blocks! They are so interesting and beautiful! A couple of years ago I found an old seed catalog in mint condition from a company here in Ottawa where I live and published in 1938, the year my mother was born. It also has great illustrations and it’s fun to see what was available and popular at the time.

  4. Oh, I love love love this! As a former textile designer who has travelled to India to do block printing, this is just up my alley. What I wouldn’t give for a seed packet printing block! I have old packets and had done a series of ceramic plates with them (manufactured in China, unfortunately, for mass production here). But still….I love this post. I just discovered you from the Urban Gardens blog roll as I am in the process of adding a Gardening section to my own blogroll. Long story. Anyway, I will put you on my blog roll right now! See you soon, Libby

  5. Gayla, what don’t you collect? LOL. These are a great find! I regret not picking up some vintage seed catalogs I spotted at flea market last year. I didn’t buy them on principal because the person selling them had cut up a lot of catalogs and sold the little graphics as framed “art”and it made me feel she didn’t respect the pieces as a whole. But now I realize that I should have bought them because the ones I passed on are likely now cut up too.

Comments are closed.