Inside The New York Botanical Garden

From the Library: Mastrantonio’s Colorful Legacy

Posted in From the Library on November 15 2012, by Mertz Library

Ed. note: Getting a heads-up from the folks in the LuEsther T. Mertz library is always a treat, if only because we never know what kind of surprise they’re going to pass along. Often it’s an interesting bit of history in the form of an old landscaping book, or a quirky tome on classical botany. This time around, however, the history in question is far more visual. Library Director Susan Fraser was kind enough to explain the how and when of the colorful collection that recently fell into their laps.

The Mertz Library recently received a collection of research material from the estate of J. Louise Mastrantonio, who worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon and California from 1961 through 1986. After retiring, she began researching the history of the American nursery industry and compiled a collection of artifacts from the late 19th and early 20th century. In time, she began writing a book about the nursery trade, though she died before completing it.

This collection came to the LuEsther T. Mertz Library as a bequest from Mastrantonio’s estate, and includes nursery and seed trade catalogs, seed packets, postcards, advertising art, and wooden seed display boxes (known as commission boxes). Among the literature included are books, agriculture newspapers, and photographs–including 10 stereoscope images.

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A particular highlight is the carte-de-visite photograph of William Robert Prince (1795-1868). Prince was the fourth proprietor of the Linnaean Botanic Garden and Nursery in Flushing (then Long Island), the first major commercial nursery in New York. Other archival materials include files of documents collected for Mastrantonio’s research. This rich collection compliments our already extensive archive of nursery and seed trade catalogs (numbering over 56,000), which is currently being cataloged and digitized with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Want more? The Mertz Library has supplied Plant Talk with some of its most fascinating books, histories, and objets d’art over the years; even on our Tumblr, we do everything we can to keep a flame under that historical curiosity. And don’t forget that you can trawl the Library archives on your own! Check out our “From the Library” tag to dig up more.


Audrey Burtrum-Stanley said:

I am pleased you have acquired this historic collection of materials but alas, it is sad Mastrantonio did not get her book finished. Upon viewing the artwork from the vintage seed packets, I can’t help but note a few of these illustrations remind me of the delightful whimseys created by the great artist J.J.Grandville! I am especially fond of “Les Fleurs Animees” and think these outstanding illustrations and more formal prints, would be an interesting inspiration for a future floral display.