Dix pear, from Charles Hovey, <i>Fruits of America</i>  (1852-6) (Linda Hall Library)

Dix pear, from Charles Hovey, Fruits of America (1852-6) (Linda Hall Library)

Charles Hovey

OCTOBER 26, 2018

Scientist of the Day - Charles Hovey

Charles Hovey, born Oct. 26, 1810, was a seed merchant and nurseryman in Massachusetts, and his well-laid-out nursery in Cambridge was a favorite stopping place for visitors to the area. Hovey’s passion was fruit, especially improved American varieties of fruit. In 1852-56, Hovey published The Fruits of America: Containing Richly Colored Figures, and Full Descriptions of All the Choicest Varieties Cultivated in the United States (second image), which also included a portrait of Hovey (last image).

For this illustrated catalog of American fruit, he called on the talents of William Sharp, an expatriate from London who was well-trained in lithography. Sharp produced a number of exquisite prints for this work. Hovey is best known for his strawberries–he essentially created the cultivated strawberry market (third image).

He also illustrated a variety of apples in his book (fourth image), but for a work of art, it is hard to beat a pear, and we display above Hovey’s favorite variety, the Dix pear (first image).

The Dix pear was first discovered in 1829 in the mansion garden of the grandmother of Dorothea Dix, the future advocate for the rights of the indigent mentally ill. No one deliberately bred the Dix pear–Nature seems to have formed this variety all by herself.

All of these fruit prints are chromolithographs, printed in at least six colors. We show here (fifth image) a detail of the Dix pear, so you can appreciate the intricacy of a chromolithograph.  We displayed the Dix pear in our 2013 exhibition, Crayon and Stone, which is not available online.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to ashworthw@umkc.edu.