Thursday, July 31, 2014

Who was the mysterious feminist seed dealer & marketing genius Miss Carrie H. Lippincott?

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1891

The C. H. Lippincott Seed Company was the 1st seed company in the United States to be founded & managed by a woman, Carrie H. Lippincott (1863-1941) .  Carrie Lippincott had been born in in the middle of the Civil War in Burlington, New Jersey, in September of 1863.  Her father was Joseph P Lippincott, a tailor & merchant, born in New Jersey in 1821.  When he was 27 in 1848, he married Martha Abigail H Moore, who also was born New Jersey in June of 1829.  

Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1893

Carrie Lippincott was the youngest of their children & was still living at home with her parents in 1880.  By 1888, the Minneapolis City Directory showed Carrie living at 305 South 11th Street in Minneapolis.  When her father died, Carrie, her mother, her sister, & her brother-in-law moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota.

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1896

The unmarried Carrie Lippincott opened her flower seed business in Minneapolis in 1896, when she was 33 years old.  The seed business blossomed & was housed in a 2-story brick building next to the home she shared with her older sister Rebecca (1849-1944) & her husband Henry B. Kent (1852-1935) & their teenage daughter Florence (1883-1980) & with the Lippincott girls' widowed mother Martha at 319 & 323 Sixth Street South, in Minneapolis.  Sister Rebecca Lippincott had married Henry B Kent in 1878 in Bloomfield, Essex County, New Jersey. Henry was a carpenter in Bloomfield in 1880.

The Lippincott sisters lived here with the brother-in-law, teenage neice, & widowed mother

Apparently, Carrie Lippincott issued her 1st seed mail catalog in January of 1896.  She also advertised in the local Minneapolis Journal for several years.  From March through April, 1896, Miss C H Lippincott advertised nasturtiums, sweet peas, & lawn grass for sale at her seed store in the Minneapolis Journal.  She also advertised, "The most magnificent catalogue free on application." Several of her ads boasted, that she had "The Best Flower Seeds." 

Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1896  This catalog seems to connect the Chinese Primroses for sale to a celebration of the immigration into America of the late 19C.

An article in the October 19,1896 Minneapolis Journal reported that, "When Miss C H Lippincott, the florist, issued her 1896 catlogue of flower seeds last January, she offered $200 in cash prizes for the largest blossoms raised from the seed of her "Royal Show Pansies," to be divided into twent prizes.  This was the largest sum of money ever offered in a similar contest."  The contest drew 5,000 pansies submitted by 750 competitors from across the nation. The article concluded, "The contestants represented nearly every state in the union and demonstrated to Miss Lippincott that advertising pays when intelligently done."

Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1898

Carrie continued to place ads in the local paper.  The following year on April to May, she advertised sweet peas & nasturtiums along with a supply of lawn grass. for sale in the same local Minneapolis newspaper. 

Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1898

Carrie Lippincott apparently was a woman who liked to be in control & who feared little.  She made the local newspaper again on Monday, April 5, 1897, when a man was bound over to court for burglary.  He was identified by Miss Carrie Lippincott as the man with whom she had a tussle in the hall of her brother-in-law's house on Sixth Street.  Police noted that man had several prior charges of burglary & blowing up safes in Minneapolis.

Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1899  This catalog is intriguing because of it blatant orientalism.  The Orient, including present-day Turkey, Greece, the Middle East, & North Africa, exerted its allure on many Western artist's imagination in the 19C.  Harem scenes evoked a sense of cultivated beauty & pampered isolation to which many Westerners aspired.

In 1891, Carrie Lippincott began calling herself  “The Pioneer Seedswoman of America.”  Unique among seed companies, she specialized in flower seeds, & targeted female clientele.  Her greatest contribution to the seed trade industry was her gift for marketing. In the 1880’s, most seed packets from most seedhouses looked the same. The packets were printed on medium bond manilla paper with the text in black ink, perhaps with a little color on the vegetable or flower illustration. The farm-oriented catalogs appeared with big 8x10 illustrations featuring fruits & vegetables on their covers & in interior illustrations.  Lippencott's seed catalogs & advertisements revolutionized how garden seeds were sold. Her catalogs featured images of children, women & flowers giving her an edge with women customers among her competition. 

Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1899.  This catalog is particularly interesting because of the use of Japonisme.  The French term Japonisme, 1st used in 1872, refers to the influence of Japanese art, culture, & aesthetics, which occurred in Europe & America after the 1848-1854 period, when after more than 200 years of seclusion, foreign merchant ships of various nationalities again began to visit & trade with Japan.

A quote from one contemporary publication said “the key to her success is prompt service, best seeds, reasonable prices, beautiful flowers, by a woman.”  Contemporary accounts of her business highlight that her 25 seed order clerks were women & that she often employed housewives to grow out seed stock on their farms & backyard gardens.  In 1894, she adopted the practice of listing the number of seeds per-packet, so her customers could plan their gardens beds more accurately.  By 1896, Carrie's business claimed to have received 150,000 orders.

Among her employees were Samuel Y. Haines (1853-) & his young wife Charlotte.  When Sam Haines had applied for a passport in 1895, he stated, that his occupation was seedsman.  By July 1896, Sam Haines, whose family had also come from Burlington, New Jersey & married into the Lippincott family there, was a full-time employee handling the advertising, which was the core of her success.  

An interview with Carrie Lippincott & Haines in the July 8, 1896, issue of Printers' Ink, a journal for advertisers, paints a picture of a woman deeply involved in the operations of her business, so much so that all pieces of mail have to be opened before her eyes.  "She is the original pioneer seedswoman - a real woman, arranging all the details of a large business herself."  

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1899

Once again on April 20 & 27, 1900, she advertised in the Minneapolis Journal, admonishing her clients that was "time to give your lawn attention."  She was still selling lawn grass seed, sweet peas, & naturtiums at her store.  

By 1900, the entire family was working in Carrie's seed enterprise. Working with her mother & sister & brother-in-law, she created a thriving trade based on hard work & her shrewd sense of marketing. Her 5-inch by 7-inch catalogs were colorful sales tools infused with Carrie's personal touch. Carrie tried to make her customers feel that they were part of her family.  In her chatty catalog greetings each mailing, she updated her customers on the doings of her family, in fact, she referred to the catalogs as annual "Greetings."  The catalogs' colorful lithographed covers, usually depicted idealized children surrounded by colorful flowers.  They looked more like the chromo lithograph greeting postcards of the day rather than typical sales catalogs.

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1901

Customers who received orders from the company found packages artfully tied with beautiful blue ribbons.  Each order contained a handwritten card which simply said, “Yours for Fine Gardening, C. H. Lippincott.”  By 1898, she owned an operated the world's largest seed house specializing in flowers & was printing a quarter of a million copies of her catalog. Competitors took note, & soon here colorful graphic designs & personalized practices were being copied by other seed sellers. 

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1902

Lippincott’s approach to marketing through her emphasis on a woman-owned company that catered to other women, led to at least 2 other seed firms in Minneapolis to conduct seed distribution business under women’s names. Their catalogs were also similar in size & used colorful graphic images.  Lippincott knew that men controlled these nearby companies, & she was right. Her 1899 catalog stated “it is a peculiar thing in this day & age that a man should want to masquerade in woman’s clothing.” 

Jessie R. Prior's Catalog 1901

Jessie Prior's husband had operated a seed business in Minnetonka, west of Minneapolis, for 5 years, before a seed catalog using her name appeared in 1895. There was quickly talk among their competitors, that the use of Jessie's name was only a marketing gambit.  Jessie Prior's extant catalogs are silent on the gender issue. Jessie did apply for membership in the all-male American Seed Testing Association in 1903, however, only to be turned down ostensibly because she was a woman.

Miss Emma V. White, 1900 catalog

Miss Emma V. White, also of Minneapolis, apparently took up the mail-order seed trade in 1896, imitating Lippincott's catalog format. Actually, Emma White was listed as a boarder at the home of Alanson W Latham & his wife in 1900.  Latham just happened to be Secretary of the Minnesota Horticultural Association.   He was so well known for his horticultural exploits, that the University of Minnesota chose him as one of 4 "Master Farmers" noting that "Mr Latham, who is secretary of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society, is known as an authority on grapes, and has been active in horticultural work."  

The cover of the White 1900 catalog had an illustration which featured an obvious imitation of Palmer Cox's popular "Brownies" characters. In the early years, the White catalog often used pixie figures to dance around the flower art in her illustrations, which differentiated them from the more straight-laced visuals of both the Priors & Carrie Lippincott. Her photo was printed in the catalogs.

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1903

Lippincott began publishing her picture in her catalog beginning in 1899, explaining that "a number of seedsmen (shall I call them men?) have assumed women's names in order to sell seeds." 
White countered a few years later with the protest, "I am a real live woman & I give personal attention to my business." 

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1904

Carrie was on the 1900 federal census with her family in Minneapolis, & on the 1905 voter list there.  The Minneapolis City Directory showed her seed business at 4410 Harriet Boulevard.  She was listed until 1909, in the city directory, as a seed dealer. 

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1905

But, by 1910, Carrie Lippincott, her sister Rebecca & her brother-in-law Harry, & her widowed mother, now 80 years old, had moved to Saint Croix, Wisconsin.  

Photographs of Lippincott's Seed Store were printed on the back Carrie Lippincott's 1914 catalog. At this time her business address was 208 Locust Street in Hudson, Wisconsin.

By 1910, Carrie replaced her brother-in-law in the census as the head of the household & owner of a seed business.  Her brother-in-law is listed as manager of the seed business.  In Wisconsin, they employed a Norwegian woman named Eda to tend house & help care for the elderly family matriarch.

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1907

Carrie's personal touch apparently appealed to her mostly female customers. In 1911, she wrote in her catalog, "I wish it were possible for me to write a personal letter to all who have written me such pleasant & encouraging letters this past year. But that is impossible for I have received hundreds of them, & I thank you all for my mother, my sister & myself…"  Her 1911 catalog was advertising seeds from their Hudson, Wisconsin, location.

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1908

The following year, Carrie Lippincott returned to Minnesota & once again was listed in the 1915-1917 Minneapolis City Directory as a seed dealer at 3149 Holmes Avenue.  

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1911

The 1920 census shows that the Lippincotts & Kents had moved back to Minneapolis permanently after the death of their elderly mother.  By this time, Carrie was still listed as the seedswoman, & Harry Kent was listed as a florist.  She appeared in the 1922 Minneapolis City Directory as a florist at 3010 Hennepin Avenue.  The 1923-1929 city directories, Carrie Lippincott was listed as a florist at 4445 Washburn Avenue South & at 3010 Hennepin Avenue.

 Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 

By 1930, both Carrie's sister & her husband were listed in the census with no occupation, but Carrie was still listed as the manager of the "florist" company.  In the 1934 Minneapolis City Directory, Carrie was a florist at both 3116 Hennepin Avenue & at 4145 Washburn Avenue.  In 1937-1939, Carrie was listed in the city directory at 5301 Xerxes Avenue South, but her occupation as a florist had ceased.  

Miss C H Lippincott Catalog 1905

By 1940, Carrie H. Lippencott & her sister Rebecca were living in the Minneapolis Jones Harrison Home for the Aged which is 80 acres on Cedar Lake dedicated to serving the elderly at 3700 Cedar Lake Avenue.  Carrie Lippincott died there on November 4, 1941, and was buried in the Minneapolis Lakewood Cemetery.

See an article on Miss C H Lippincott by here.

See mention of Miss C H Lippincott in the Landreth Seed Company history here.

Read the 1901 Lippincott catalog here.

Read the Smithsonian Library's biography of Carrie H. Lippincott here.

David Christenson, "Old Seed Catalogs Combined Science, Marketing, & Printing Arts"
See The Three Seedswomen here.

See the Anderson Horticultural Library at the University of Minnesota here.