A reader sent me this amazing find: a special “Poet’s Number” of Vick’s Floral Guide from 1893, which not only contains quotations from famous writers about flowers and gardening, but also this family of “Pansy Sailors” which show up throughout the pages. Certainly, they are ancestors of my Pansy Luchadores!
I can’t find any real explanation for them or any evidence that they were used in other Vick’s guides.
Here’s a little bit about James Vick and his illustrated floral guides:
Vick’s Floral Guide and Catalog, first produced in 1862, proved to be the perfect outlet for his expertise as a printer, writer, publisher and gardener. Filled with charming wood-cut engravings and vivid color plates (by some accounts, Vick was the first to use color illustrations in a U.S. seed catalog), the Floral Guide quickly became the most popular seed catalog of its day. “Vicks Floral Guide came like the first breath of spring, with promise of future bloom,” raves a typical magazine review. “Vicks catalog, like his seeds and plants, is first class. It is finely illustrated, on good paper, and with two beautiful colored plates.”
This particular illustration is mentioned in A Touch of Blossom: John Singer Sargent and the Queer Flora of Fin-de-siècle Art:
Inverts were also called, from at least the 1880s on, “pansies,” “buttercups,” “daisies,” “violets,” “blossoms,” and even more generally, “horticultural lads.” A Vick’s Seeds advertisement from the 1890s conflates the already queer figures of the pansy and the sailor into a suggestive hybrid. The back cover of a seed catalogue, the image depicts two flowery sailors, overseen by their captain, raising anchor. The anchor’s chain for the moment imprisons the blooming asters, but when the “sailor lads so bold and free / Put out again,” the poem at the bottom right assures us, dissemination will occur.
“A pansy is a loaded subject,” wrote John Ashbery in a 1997 retrospective of Joe Brainard’s work, then pointed out the “seed-packet look” of Brainard’s paintings and collages of pansies.
“The world keeps showing me these pictures.”