Limited Quantities
The William D. Burt Seed Company - New York
These antique seed packets were exquisitely hand lithographed by artists 95 years ago. Not only are the packets valuable as art, but in recent years, antique seed packets from the 20th century have gained recognition as an art form among collectors. Historically they depict many varieties and colors of flowers and vegetables that are considered extinct today . Horticulturists and researchers are now using antique seed packets for referencing the extinct varieties as they may only be seen as images in these packets. These original 95 year old antique seed packets were discovered a few years back when the William D. Burt Seed Company building in Dalton, New York was torn down. The bulldozer that was clearing away the debris accidentally uncovered a buried trap door that led to a forgotten cellar. In the cellar were boxes covered with wax and filled with the never used seed packets. Thus sealed from air, moisture and light, the packets retained the vivid and pristine colors of the flowers and vegetables they were intended to contain. The packets were stored and forgotten in about 1917.

Stone Lithography - How the Seed Packets were Made

When one looks at any of the seed packets up close, they reveal that the flower or vegetable image is made up of tiny dots. The foreground, the background, the flower or vegetable itself, everywhere. The dots are representative of the technique by which the artist drew the original image. It is a DRAWING not a painting. The technique was called STIPPLING. Stippling was created by using a pen with a needle point, drawing only one of those dots at a time, a random dot drawing. It was very labor intensive to say the least. The canvas that was used to drawn on, was a slab of polished Limestone. The Limestone was about 4 inches thick and polished like glass. The artist wore a magnifying glass visor and drew the dots one dot at a time, with only one color at a time. A separate stone had to be used for each color. To increase production speed, no one artist did the entire drawing themselves. Many artists were involved making to a finished packet. A different artist was assigned to each color. It turns out this is how silk screening was invented, evolving from the stone technique. A separate stone for each color - a separate silk screen for each color. Before 1920 this is how it was done. After 1920 they were moving on to the CAMERA. Let's try to explain how the seed packets were made.

STEP 1: One color of a particular image is drawn, dot by dot on one stone. The packets color range is as few as five and as many as 20 different colors. 4 color process had not been invented yet. That meant as many as 20 different stones were used in an assembly line to obtain only one packet. The ink that was used had a waxy-greasy base. That made it water repellent. Grease repels water. Grease attracts Grease

STEP 2: The entire stone is flushed with water. The water is repelled by the greasy drawing, but makes the rest of the surface of the stone damp.

STEP 3: Now the color (the ink) is applied to the stone using a roller. When the ink is rolled over the stone, the ink sticks where the grease drawing is, but not where the stone is damp with the water. Remember, grease attract grease and grease repels water or in this case water repels grease. The inks came from Germany. There were called COAL-TAR. To this day artists and printers consider them the best there ever was. Coal-tar inks were primarily known for two things: Intensity and most importantly, the colors did not fade over time.

STEP 4: Next, the blank paper, uncut and unfolded, is set on the stone and even pressure is applied to the entire surface with an un-inked roller.

STEP 5: Finally the paper is "peeled" off the stone and the inked part of the image transfers from the stone to the paper.

One color is completed. That was only the first stone. Then they moved to stone #2 and so forth until all the colors were done. Remember there could be as many as 20 different stones. Each step required what is called "Perfect Registration" or alignment on the stone. In other words, the unfolded packet paper is placed in exactly the right position on the next stone. Positioning is determined by small marks on the stone that look like plus signs (+) and little circles (o). There were the same little plus signs and circles on the unfolded packet paper. When the two plus signs and circles were perfectly lined up to each other they made a pass. One of the most interesting items of all, is that the combination of the technique, colors and the dot process created a 3-Dimensional image. It takes a magnifying glass large enough to accommodate both eyes to see it Now that you have read the amazing story of how the packets were discovered and understand the incredible labor that was involved in making them, we know you will have as great an appreciation for them as we have. Today, tomorrow and 95 years from now they will remain just as incredible as the first time you saw them.

There is one man more than any other responsible for making flower gardening what it is today. It all started in the 1860's in Philadelphia, when as a ten year old boy, he started breeding chickens and other birds. At age 14, he was a published author in the top poultry trade journals of that time. By seventeen, he was selling high quality poultry through a successful mail-order business from his parents home. His business grew and he sold other high quality animals as well as poultry. In 1878, when he was 20 years old, he decided to offer his customers high quality food for their animals. He began to offer high quality seeds for sale. By 1881, vegetable and flower seeds dominated most of his sales, and by the turn of the century seeds were in, and poultry had been out for a long time. The rest is history. Burpee's seed catalogs, often more than 150 pages, was one of the most popular pieces of reading material of the day. The catalogs contained items not expected in a gardening catalog. It was loaded with stories of Burpee's travels around the world in search of new and exotic produce and flowers. Always guaranteed to be chock full of garden advice was a given every issue. In 1915, when Washington Atlee Burpee died , his family tried to have the American Marigold declared the country's national flower. It was then Illinois Senator Dirksen who submitted the bill to Congress and fought to have it considered. Needless to say the attempt failed. America did not have a national flower until 1986, when President Reagan signed legislation proclaiming the "Rose".

Flowers  |   Vegetables   |   Specialty Packets

2004 Tour | Home
For more information please e-mail us
or write to us at:
Seed Art
P. O. Box 1116
Glen Ellen, Ca. 95442

©1977 Seed Art
No portion of this website may be reproduced without written permission of the owners