Happy New Year! I started my work in 2019 by cataloging a unique item, unlike anything that has ever come across my desk: a nurseryman’s sample book from the late 1880s. It belonged to Henry C. Eickhoff, a well-known nurseryman from Indianapolis. A book like this was used by salesmen to show potential customers images of available nursery stock. After browsing Mr. Eickhoff’s impressive offerings, I can see why his business was so successful.
This sample book consists of ninety-nine individual color plates that are arranged in rows of three. They are joined together by red fabric and backed by a second row of three. The entire set is mounted in a folding leather portfolio. When opened, up to six plates are visible at a time. Considering its old age and probable heavy use, the book is in very good condition; only some of the fabric and plates are loose.
All the images are labeled, and most include descriptions (origin, size, taste, use, season, etc.). A variety of trees, flowers and fruits are represented. Here are some examples:
• Norway Spruce: “A lofty, elegant evergreen tree. Branches droop when the tree attains the height of fifteen or twenty feet.”
• Cuthbert or Queen of the Market: “One of the most valuable of the older varieties of red raspberries; hardy, healthy and productive; good flavor and ships well.”
• Niagara: “This purely native grape is a cross between Concord and Cassady, and earlier and better in quality. A strong and vigorous grower. Largely planted for market and very profitable.”
• Governor Wood: “A sweet cherry, with a delicious flavor; tree a thrifty grower and productive; valuable for shade as well as its fruit.”
What stands out most about this book, in my opinion, is the quality of the illustrations. The colors are incredibly rich and vibrant. While looking at the images, one feels as though they can reach out and taste the fruit or smell the flowers. As advertising material, I’m sure this sample book helped seal the deal for many buyers. I’m sold, and when you see it in person, you will be, too!
The catalog record for this item can be found here. On a related note, please check out our latest 4th floor exhibition: The German Growers of Indianapolis and see if you can spot a few more images from Mr. Eickhoff’s catalog!