Thousands of historic watercolor paintings of fruit now online

More than 7,500 watercolor paintings, lithographs and line drawings of fruits and nuts commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1886 to 1942 are now online.  Their availability is due to the persistence of artist Parker Higgins.

Higgins originally stumbled on the “Pomological Watercolor Collection” after challenging himself to discover one new cool public domain thing every day for a month.  He quickly realized that access to the images was limited, with high resolution versions hidden behind a largely untouched paywall. Thanks to some pressure from open data community members positioned in the White House, the USDA ended up making the full digital archive available, high resolution versions and all. The plant specimens (about half of them apple varieties) originated in 29 countries and 51 states and territories in the U.S  and were illustrated by about twenty-one artists. 

See “Over 100 Years Ago, the US Government Commissioned 7,500 Watercolor Paintings of Every Kind of Fruit in the Country” by Chloe Olewitz on the Morsel New York website (2017)

“USDA Pomological Watercolors” on the USDA National Agricultural Library website

Illustration: U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705