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A print of a wicker basket full of pink, purple, and blue flowers
Flower basket, Currier & Ives, c. 1872. (Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress).

Floral Finds in the Library’s Collections

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As the warmer days approach, we’ve been seeing flowers all over Washington D.C. The early signs of spring include the blooming of tulips, azaleas, magnolias, and of course the famous cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin and in our own back yard!

A pink travel brochure showing where to find cherry blossoms in Washington DC.
Washington, the cherry blossoms. National Park Service, 1976. (Geography and Maps Division, Library of Congress).

Inspired by the natural beauty around me, I decided to take a look to see what kinds of flowers I could find in the Library’s collections. I was especially interested in exploring the wide variety of collection materials and mediums the Library has preserved. I wasn’t disappointed: one can find photographs, prints, posters, maps (like the one above), and even sheet music and audio recordings with a quick online catalog search. The Library also holds a wide array of gardening manuals, some of which included beautiful and aspirational images as well. Keep reading to view a small selection of what you could discover.

While I was interested in the flowers themselves, I enjoyed finding photos that showed how people interacted with the blooms. You might also enjoy this stereograph showing a floral portrait of President Abraham Lincoln. I was curious about why this sculpture might have been made. With your family, brainstorm some of the possibilities!

A black and white stereograph image showing Lincoln's head made of flowers.
Lincoln’s portrait in flowers, Allegheny Park, PA. R.K Bonine, C. 1891. (Stereograph cards, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress).

There were a number of photographs of people selling flowers around the world, such as these  girls in Paris, a flower seller in Mexico, a market in Portugal, or a flower girl in Amsterdam. There were also images of flower sellers closer to home, including this one of a vendor, Nathanel Quarles, in Washington D.C.

A black and white photograph of an African American man standing next to a flower cart.
Washington, D.C. Easter flower stand. John Collier Jr., April 1943. (Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information photograph collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress).

Other images included this hand-colored lithograph, published sometime between 1830 and 1850. There isn’t a title to tell us where this scene is set. Where do you think this flower market might be? What clues can you find?

A print showing a group of people buying and selling flowers.
Woman selling flowers. 1830-1950. (Popular graphic art print filing series, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress).

These images made me curious about other advertisement possibilities, and I stumbled upon this beautiful poster advertising flowerpot stands. Where do you think this poster would have been displayed?

A poster advertising flower pots.
Flower pot stands sold here. 1895. (Artist Poster filing series, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress).

Outside of images, you can also find flowers in unexpected places. I discovered plenty of sheet music celebrating the spring season and decorated with flowers, including the one pictured below.

The cover of a book of sheet music, titled The Flower Album.
Tulip. Carl Heuser, 1873. (American Sheet Music, ca. 1870 to 1885, Music Division, Library of Congress).

While we don’t have a recording of what this song sounded like, we do have other audio recordings of songs featuring flowers, such as this example recorded at an FSA camp in California during the Dust Bowl. The performer had learned the song by listening to a recording by a music group called the Carter Family, similar to how you might learn the lyrics by listening to music on the radio.

All of this exploring brought me to the final stop on my floral journey: the Library’s collection of gardening manuals. You can find a wide variety of these books in the Library’s online catalog, including “Gardener’s Kalendars” (sic) from 1817 and extensive guides like “The Young Gardener’s Assistant” from 1844. Those with smaller spaces might find ideas in books such as “The Parlor Gardener,” or “How to Keep a Window Garden.”  Other handy guides include “Practical Garden Points by Practical People,” “Common Sense Gardens: How to Plan and Plant Them,” or “The Garden Primer: A Practical Handbook on the Elements of Gardening for Beginners.”

Several of the guides have beautiful covers, like this one published in 1907.

Yellow book cover showing a cottage and flowering bushes.
Four Seasons in the Garden. Eben E. Rexford, 1907. (Selected Digitized Books, General Collection, Library of Congress).

Others have interesting additional material to help amateur gardeners. For example, “The Garden Month by Month” included this color chart to help readers plan their plots.

A chart showing the rainbow of colors flowers bloom in.
The Garden Month by Month. Mabel Cabot Sedgwick, 1907. (Selected Digitized Books, General Collection, Library of Congress).

Several of the manuals offer designs to help readers plan their gardens, big or small. These designs show side by side plans of garden spaces and what they could turn into. For example, “Every Woman’s Flower Garden: How to Make and Keep it Beautiful,” offers a variety of intricate garden plans.

Finally, many of the guidebooks share inspirational images of what the reader’s garden could look like given time and energy. I especially liked the illustrations shared in “The Home Garden,” depicting gardens of different shapes and sizes.

Whether you plant an annual garden or simply enjoy the flowers you come across outside, I hope you’ve found a little inspiration in today’s blog post. As spring turns to summer, take time to notice how the flowering plants around you change. What is blooming in your hometown? What colors or patterns do you see? How do these change throughout the seasons? Think about who planted and cares for these flowers. What sort of plan might they have developed? Whether indoors or out, you can continue exploring what the Library has to offer through the additional resources listed below.

Additional Resources:

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