Mary Pols, Jan. 17, 2016, Portland Press Herald
An amazing cache of old seed catalogs – many of them local, beautifully rendered and full of clues to vintage varieties and growing methods – is now digitized and available to anyone with Internet access. And if it weren’t for a Mainer, the collection might not even exist.
The Internet Archive is a nonprofit digital archive that houses an astonishing collection of material, all downloadable, from Grateful Dead bootlegs to Charlie Chaplin movies to random 20th century software programs. Archive.org is like a flea market in the cloud, without price tags.
Among that ephemera is a treasure trove of more than 18,000 seed and nursery catalogs dating back to the 18th century, all digitized and uploaded by the National Agricultural Library over the last two years. Eventually, the entirety of the Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection of more than 200,000 catalogs will be available for the public to browse electronically.
These catalogs, many of them beautifully illustrated, are more than just charming – they represent agricultural history. Their pages are littered with lost varieties and clues to how and what we grew in earlier centuries. They’ve always been available to the public, but until being digitized, that meant a trip to the fifth floor of the National Agricultural Library’s building in Beltsville, Maryland, where the originals are stored in an environment carefully controlled to high archival standards.
Now anyone with Internet access can see them. But if it weren’t for a Mainer born in Brunswick in 1878, this collection might not exist at all.
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