Skip to main content Smithsonian Institution

Catalog Data

Jerome B. Rice & Co  Search this
Oak wood, paper, metal hardware
4 1/16 × 5 7/8 × 4 7/8 in. (10.3 × 14.9 × 12.4 cm)
Seed boxes
Seed industry
Victorian (1837-1901)
Small, wooden seed box for Jerome B. Rice & Co. The box is slightly curved and has a raised top, hinged lid, and fancy front clasp. The box is constructed with simple interlocking joints, and the base is a single piece nailed to the sides. The box has a dark wood varnish on the exterior and is unvarnished inside. An advertisement is glued to the inside of the lid. The main image is of a smiling girl in a red dress and white smock leaning over a fence and holding a basket of violets. Tulips, a house, and tree are pictured behind her. The advertisement reads: "Rice's Popular Flower Seeds are the best. From the well known Cambridge Valley Seed Gardens, Cambridge, N.Y. 'Stolen Sweets.'" Below the image, along the bottom section of lid are instructions for reordering.
Label Text:
Saving seeds is done both industrially for agriculture and gardening, but it is also done by amateur gardeners. Seed saving was the traditional way farms and gardens had maintained themselves for the last 12,000 years. In the nineteenth century, the commercial seed industry replaced most grassroots seed-saving practices. Rather than collecting and processing their own seeds, gardeners and farmers shifted to purchasing seed annually from seed suppliers. Seed harvesting is a carefully-timed and labor-intensive process, and many farmers and gardeners found relying on the seed industry to do this work for them much easier and more cost effective. The seed industry was essentially a centralized supply collected from individual raisers and sold to both local retailers and directly to the public. Seeds were grown on farms, harvested, dried, and cleaned. They were then sorted, categorized, stored, packaged, described, and mailed. These time- and labor-saving steps made the product of seedsmen more convenient and thereby more valuable than those saved from the previous year’s plants. This elevated their products over what could be found in one’s back yard. Originally in America, seeds had to be imported from Europe for agriculture and gardening, and not surprisingly, the long voyage by ship across the ocean compromised many of the seeds and stunted their successful cultivation. As early as 1780, the seed industry was established in America, and by the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was in full swing. The seed industry sold to home gardeners, professional florists, and market growers through stores as well as mail-order through catalogs.
When selling their seeds in a store, companies delivered the seeds to be sold on commission. Seeds were packaged in colorful packages and kept in display boxes and seed racks meant to attract the customers’ attention. Companies marketed their seeds in boxes constructed of pine, stained or painted, and nailed at the corners. Some were intricately inlayed, mounted with handsome hardware, and lined with colorful scenes of pretty flower gardens or happy children. Wooden dividers separated the seed packets into four to six rows. Interior and exterior labels were designed to catch the gardener’s attention. Seed boxes were a form of “silent salesman” and inventory control from 1820 to 1890. They were left with the retail shop owner, filled with seed packets, and replenished as needed. At the end of the summer, companies took back whatever stock had not sold. Most boxes were picked up or sent back to the seed grower, cleaned and new labels pasted over last season’s edition.
"Rice's Popular Flower Seeds are the best. From the well known Cambridge Valley Seed Gardens, Cambridge, N.Y. 'Stolen Sweets.'"
boxes (containers)  Search this
chromolithographs  Search this
Seed boxes  Search this
agriculture  Search this
horticulture  Search this
marketing  Search this
packets (containers)  Search this
point-of-purchase displays  Search this
seed  Search this
Seed industry and trade  Search this
showcases  Search this
Credit Line:
Smithsonian Gardens, Horticultural Artifacts Collection.
Accession number:
Restrictions & Rights:
Usage conditions apply
See more items in:
Horticultural Artifacts Collection
Data Source:
Smithsonian Gardens