Vintage Gardening Books: Grow a Niche Collection

Collecting rare antique and vintage gardening books can be an expensive endeavor, as valuable to the garden historian as they are to the collector.

Collecting vintage and antique gardening books is a passion, not just for gardeners but for bibliophiles with interests in garden history, old botanical prints, botany and garden design. Much can be learned from old gardening books, like the names of plants that are no longer in existence, old gardening techniques, and country lore. These books are most valuable to researchers when restoring an old garden to the original time period. They are a pleasure to read and a pleasure to own and grow a niche collection.

Collectible Vintage Gardening Books

Vintage gardening books are generally any books published in the past 100 years. Bibliophiles build their collections based on taste, as well as a variety of other criteria like the books author, the subject matter, period and so on. A purist may only purchase vintage gardening books related to roses. Another collector may only collect vintage nursery catalogs, and some collectors just love old gardening books and can’t resist building an eclectic collection.

There are many vintage gardening books from the first half of the 20th century which can be found for less than $100, but as with everything old and collectible, there are exceptions. The exceptions might include very rare editions, sets, limited editions, special editions, the quality of the illustrations, illustrations attributed to a well-known artist, books signed by the author, or those with a handwritten inscription attributed to a historical figure.

Gertrude Jekyll Vintage Gardening Book Values

Gertrude Jekyll was a well-known Victorian and Edwardian gardener in England who wrote several books, and the originals are quite valuable today. Values depend on condition, whether or not it’s a first edition, or signed by Jekyll herself. Expect to pay from $200 to $2K for a first edition of one of her books.

Vita Sackville-West Vintage Gardening Book Values

Another well-known garden writer of the first half of the 20th century was Vita Sackville-West. Her garden books included Some Flowers, The Land, The Garden, In Your Garden, In Your Garden Again, More for your Garden, and Even More for Your Garden. Her gardening books have values of $50 for most of the In Your Garden titles and up to $1000 for a signed limited edition of The Garden, her famous long poem.

Rare Antique Gardening and Horticultural Books

Age does play a role in the values of antique gardening books. Printing methods in the pre-industrial age of the 17th and 18th century, as well as labor and paper costs were high and reflected in the original prices of the books. As a result, many editions were limited and never mass produced like contemporary books. Particular gardening books of that age may be rare.

Many very early gardening and horticultural books from the 16th to the 19th century are extremely rare and extremely valuable. Plant hunter, John Tradescant’s original1656 volume of Musaeum Tradescantium is valued at only $3K, but it’s not unusual for some gardening and horticultural books of this age to be valued at $10K to $100K for some editions. But many late 19th century gardening books found for less than $200 and these are widely collected because they are less rare, and more affordable.

Early and Rare Illustrated Plant Folios

If the collector is seeking early botanical books, those with fine illustrations, from the 17th, 18th and early 19th century, she can expect to be building a very expensive collection, with some rare tomes valued at $100K or more. The best are folio editions with numerous engravings of plants. And hand colored editions of rare early botanical books and folio collections are also highly sought after.

One example is New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus . the Temple of Flora, or Garden of Nature, by John Robert Thornton, circa 1800. This has been valued at close to $200K by some rare book dealers, $30K by others.

The Temple of Flora, by Dr. Robert John Thornton (1768?–1837)

Many book titles were very long until the mid 19th century. Another long title and valuable example is Illustrations and Descriptions of the plants which compose the natural order Camellieæ, and of the varieties of Camellia Japonica, cultivated in the gardens of Great Britain, illustrated by William and Alfred Chandler, circa 1831. This collection has been valued at $45K.

An original three-volume set of Les Roses by famous illustrator, Pierre Joseph Redoute has seen values of $300K to $1ML, his Les Liliacees, about half those prices.

Growing a Niche Gardening Book Collection

It would be rare for a vintage gardening book collector, not to be a gardener or have an interest in botany or horticulture. Finding a niche is as simple as knowing one’s gardening tastes. Growing a niche collection begins with one purchase. And those books are out there, easily found in used book shops, shops specializing in antique and rare books, as well as numerous online venues. For their historical value alone, it’s a collection well worth growing.