Plant catalogues promoting an international trade in seeds have had no borders for at least 100 years as evidenced by horticultural trade between countries. It was no surprise that seed crossed from the USA to Canada but I was not prepared for the frequent trade in seed from the USA and Australia. The early catalogues were as beguiling as present day ones, and there are collectors of these minor pieces of art on the internet.
One of the most prolific seedsmen advertisers in the USA was John Lewis Childs, who at the age of 17 in 1874 came to Queens (subsequently Nassau) County N.Y. in an area known as East Hinsdale (a community of a small group of houses, one store, the Hinsdale post office and a railway station). Young Childs became an employee of a grower of flowers and seeds. After a year of apprenticeship, he went into business for himself, renting a small area of land and began a seed and bulb business. He advertised his products in leaflets, starting the first seed catalogue business in America. The prosperous business grew to hundreds of acres of gardens, thousands of customers, a printing plant, and his catalogues were sent around the world.
Childs bought the land surrounding the post office, named the new holdings Floral Park, and renamed the post office and railway station by the same name. In 1908 he became President of the incorporated village of Floral Park. Childs served as a New York State Senator and died in 1921. Unfortunately the glorious array of flowers along the Long Island Rail Road gave way in the late 1920’s to residential neighborhoods, but the streets of Floral Park still carry the names of his flowers. An example of his 1907 advertising (produced in glorious multicolours) is seen in Figure 1.
A total of 5 registered covers from 4 different Australian buyers from 3 different Colonies/States give testimony to the popularity of Child’s mail order seed business. A cover from Brisbane, Queensland in 1894, one from Cooma N.S.W. in 1895, another from Cressbrook, Queensland in 1902, and another 2 from Boulder, Western Australia in 1909, but only one shown (Figures 2 – 5).
All probably contained money in payment for an order. The company had not provided a return envelope, so that none had the Floral Park’s advert on the cover.
The opportunity to advertise was not lost on this Australian cover originating from another USA plant firm in 1918. It has a total postage of 2½d made up of a pair of pink 1d KGV heads and a single green ½d KGV head, with 4 postmarks of COOPERNOOK/ 3 JA 18/ N.S.W. The cover has the printed address of C. C. MORSE & CO., GROWERS SEEDS DEALERS, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, U.S. America.. A purple RECEIVED marking on the front shows that it arrived Mar 2 1918, and there are no markings on the reverse (Figure 6).
In spite of the small size of Coopernook, 20 k from Taree, its post office has had a barred numeral obliterator in 1876 of ‘849’, and 3 possibly 4 circular date stamps recorded up to at least 1996. The post office is still open. Coopernook is listed in Appleton’s “The Cambridge Dictionary of Australian Places” (1992) as a township (population 333) on the North Coast of NSW. It is now within the boundaries of the City of Greater Taree, and is on the Pacific Highway at the Lansdowne River.
The C. C. Morse Company was not as easy to research, and even the founder’s forenames have not been found for his initials. He was a pioneer breeder of sweet peas and the company was founded in 1877. Morse’s son Lester L. Morse, born in 1870, continued the development of the sweet pea, and authored a book entitled “Field Notes on Sweet Peas” 1916, published by the company. In April 1906, the San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed the seed company building along with all contents. The company incorporated with several other plant and seed companies, but obviously kept its name for at least some mailings up to 1918.
After several seed company incorporations, Lester continued to direct the Pacific Coast operations and his son also continued the development of flowers. Charles C. Morse, the grandson of C. C. Morse had the same initials, a possible clue as to his grandfather’s name? The Ferry-Morse Seed Company became part of France’s Groupe Limagrain in 1981, and this company is considered to be the largest breeder-producer of seed in the world.
The transport of seed was not just one-way to Australia, for in 1894 the original Morse company obtained 5 lbs p of Brown Spanish onion seed from Australia, and sold the seed to the Burpee Seed Company in 1897, who renamed the variety Australian Brown!