What did old apple varieties look like? Watercolors from the USDA library.

Beautiful Early-20th-Century Watercolors of Apple Varieties You Don’t See Much Anymore

Beautiful Early-20th-Century Watercolors of Apple Varieties You Don’t See Much Anymore

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Oct. 5 2015 12:21 PM

Beautiful Early-20th-Century Watercolors of Apple Varieties You Don’t See Much Anymore

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Library offers a digital collection of pomological watercolors—illustrations of fruit cultivars commonly grown between the years 1886 and 1942. In those years, the department's Division of Pomology employed 21 artists to document fruit varieties in images that were then lithographed and used in USDA informational publications.

Author Tim Hensley writes that the 19th and early 20th centuries "are known to fruit historians as the golden age of American pomology." In 1905, a staff pomologist at the USDA cataloged 17,000 different apple names representing around 14,000 different varieties of apple grown in American orchards and backyards. 

The digital collection contains some 4,000 images of apple varieties, many of which are now unfamiliar to American palates. The USDA's botanical artists, nine of whom were women, recorded all of the blemishes and discolorations they saw on the samples they painted. 

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With the standardization and industrialization of agriculture, the great preponderance of these apple varieties have dropped out of favor. In the past decade or two, some researchers, nurseries, and hobbyist "fruit sleuths" have made new efforts to identify and recultivate older varieties like these. 

WinterCheese
Winter Cheese, as grown in Washington, D.C. Watercolor by Deborah Griscom Passmore, 1900.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection

YellowTransparent
Yellow Transparent, as grown in Washington County, Maryland. Watercolor by Ellen Isham Schutt, 1910.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection

VirginiaBeauty
Virginia Beauty, as grown in Augusta County, Virginia. Watercolor by Ellen Isham Schutt, 1906.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection

RedWinterPearmain
Red Winter Permain, as grown in Santa Cruz County, California. Watercolor by Amanda Almira Newton, 1906.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection

Harrison
Harrison, as grown in Sussex County, New Jersey. (A favored cider apple before Prohibition.) Watercolor by Deborah Griscom Passmore, 1899.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection

NewtownPippin
Newtown Pippin, as grown in Santa Cruz County, California. Watercolor by Ellen Isham Schutt, 1910.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection

CoxsOrangePippin
Cox's Orange Pippin, as grown in Missoula County, Montana. Watercolor by Deborah Griscom Passmore, 1907.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection