Discover Vintage America - MARCH 2019

Botanical prints have a long history, can maintain value

Q: I have accumulated several antique and vintage prints of flowers, some are the entire flower and others have writing underneath the image. Can you tell me anything about these and what they may be worth?

A: This is perfect timing for this question. New seed catalogs come in the mail on a regular basis taunting me with their beauty and color. My calendar is out so that I can keep track of what is put in the cold frame, an old window propped at an angle in a fallow flowerbed. It also lets me know when to till in more compost, the last freeze date, and when to start cleaning out the weeds and blow leaves out of the flower beds.

The west end of the garden will be planted with vegetables and the east end is currently a jungle but by summer will be a medicinal herb and flower garden. I recently picked up a book The Herbalist's Bible; the original book and drawings were by John Parkinson 1567-1650, he was also the herbalist to King Charles I. Many of these plants are what we refer to as weeds but even weeds have healing properties and many are edible.

It is helpful to know a little about identifying healing herbs, plants and trees. If you are out in the woods, get a bad cut on your hand and were aware that plantain would stop the bleeding, I bet that you would be looking for some plantain. Plantain is also edible so that you can snack while staunching the flow of blood. Here is a little information on this wonderful plant -

"If you use pesticides, herbicides or any type of chemical on your yard please don't eat it. I prefer the birds, bunnies and health aids growing in my yard so it stays chemical free. Weeds are green too."

Prior to the invention of photography, the only way to keep a visual log was to draw the plant life on to paper. These images were used by physicians, pharmacists, botanical scientists and gardeners for identification, analysis and classification.

Botanical illustrations date back to 50 – 70 B.C., when a book, De Materia Medica was created by Greek botanist Pedanius Dioscorides to help readers identify plant species for medicinal purposes. The 18th century saw many advances in the printing processes, allowing colors and details of drawings to appear even more accurately on paper. As interest in botanical publications increased, the role of botanical illustrator came to be considered a respected profession. *

Collecting botanical illustrations is great fun; you can focus on one artist, a geographical area or type of plant. The photograph that you submitted in the large brown frame is a newer piece, circa 1970, but it is in a nice frame and the image appears to be clean with no fading. It is a true botanical illustration because you can see the cross section of the plant. Resale price: $75-$85.

The other two that you sent to me, with the reverse on glass painted mats, are prints with quite a bit of discoloration on the background BUT the frames are magnificent. The small rose with the gold arrows painted on the glass is worth $50, and the large image in the teal painted glass, $80-$95.

The drawings that depict a plant in cross section are the most desirable.


Note: All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop or other resale outlet. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawnshop prices are about half or less of resale value.

Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to for a one-on-one appraisal.