The Winterthur Library

The Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera

Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum

5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, DE  19735

302-888-4600 or 800-448-3883





Creator:         Dreer, Henry A., 1818-1873                          

Title:               Letters

Dates:             1847-1848, 1868-1869

Call No.:         Doc. 334

Acc. No.:        88x69

Quantity:        16 items

Location:        31 C






Henry A. Dreer ran a seed store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He was the son of a German emigrant.  In 1838, at the age of 20, Dreer started a seed store at 97 Chestnut St.  Within a decade operations had expanded significantly and Dreer opened a larger store at 59 Chestnut St.  From 1839 to 1850, his nurseries were at "The Woodlands."  As business continued to grow, Dreer moved into successively larger stores at several Chestnut Street locales.  In 1847, Dreer married Mary Leavenworth.  Initially, she and later their baby daughter lived in Reading, Pa.  The family settled in Philadelphia late in 1848.


Dreer's son, William F., entered the seed business at an early age.  In 1868 and 1869, he was in Germany studying and working with seed producer Ernst Benary. Upon his father's death in December 1873, William took charge of the business.  In 1892, he formed a corporation and permitted heads of departments to become stockholders.  In 1924, he oversaw the company's move into an eight‑story building at 1306 Spring Garden St., Philadelphia.  





The collection consists of two sets of letters.  The first five, dated 1847 and 1848, where written from Henry Dreer to Mary Leavenworth during their courtship and first year of marriage.  Dreer was working and trying to find a house in Philadelphia for his family, while Mary remained in Reading.   He described plays and concerts he attended and sent his affection.  Dreer also sent a letter to his sister in 1848, announcing an unexpected arrival in Reading and his intention of taking a house on Union St. in Philadelphia. An additional letter from Henry and Mary Dreer describes their vacation in Germany in 1869.


The remainder of the letters were written by William F. Dreer during his trip to Germany in 1868 and 1869 to his mother, father, and future brother‑in‑law, Ned. He described his experiences in Germany, particularly his work with the seed producer Benary, whom he identified as the leading figure of his profession in Erfurt and perhaps in all of Germany.  His letters mentioned large orders of flower seeds, the French firm Vilmorin-Andrieux & cie, and compared Benary's greenhouses with those at home.  William also discussed his studies, including lessons in German, French, painting, commercial calculations, history, and geography.  Several times, he commented on an impending war between France and Prussia.  William provided details on his daily life in Remscheid and Erfurt, and accounts of concerts, festivals, and other social events he attended.  In one letter, he included a program from a concert given by the 33rd Regiment Band of the Prussian Army. 





The letters are in chronological order.





The materials are in English.





Collection is open to the public.  Copyright restrictions may apply.





Purchased from Bookworm & Silverfish.






            Dreer, William F.

            Dreer, Mary Leavenworth.

            Dreer family.



            Ernst Benary (Firm).

Vilmorin-Andrieux et cie.

            Voyages and travels.



            Dwellings - Pennsylvania - Philadelphia.

            House furnishings - Pennsylvania - Philadelphia.


            Seed industry and trade.

            Selling - Seeds.

            Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871 - Causes - Public opinion.


            Erfurt (Germany) - Description and travel.

            Remscheid (Germany) - Description and travel.

            Germany - Description and travel.

            Germany - Social life and customs.

            Philadelphia (Pa.) - Social life and customs.







Location: 31 C



88x69.18         Henry A. Dreer, [Phildaelphia]. New Years Morning, [1847?], to Dearest Mary

                        Describes a New Years party which included supper and dancing; sending her a piece of the cake from the party. "I hope love will overlook all mistakes in this hastily written letter".



88x69  Henry A. Dreer, Philadelphia, January 7, 1847, to My dearest Mary [Leavenworth].

            Her recent letter full of love; glad she liked the bouquet and will send her a better one.  New Year wishes.  Has recovered from his cold and hopes she recovers from hers soon.  Present attractions in Philadelphia: theater performance of a play about Richelieu with the famous actor Forest [i.e. Edwin Forest,1806-1872], and the second concert of the Philharmonic Society to hear the great violinist Sciori [not identified].  Step-brother and his daughters still in town; he brought tobacco with him and wants to dispose of it before he returns; however, the market is dull at the moment.



88x69.17         Henry A. Dreer, Philadelphia, April 9, 1848, to My dear Wife.

                        Was fearful of her upcoming ordeal, and so happy that she was preserved and that their baby girl arrived safely.  His mother and Sophia [a sister?] are eager to see the newcomer.  Am looking for a house; business for the coming spring looks very encouraging.  Plans to attend the furniture sale at Riddles (opposite the State House), "and see if I can purchase anything we shall want toward housekeeping."  Likes the name “Mary” for the baby.  Lonely without her and baby.  Ferdinand wants to give the baby a gold chain, “rather soon to begin to wear gold chains.”  Hope Pa [her father, evidently] has not gone back to his old ways.



88x69.15         Henry A. Dreer, Philadelphia, April 24, 1848, to My dear Mary.

                        Hope she is continuing to gain strength.  Still looking for a house. It appears to be a hopeless task, but may have found one on Shippen Street, the first house east of Conovers, built by the same person who constructed Conovers.  [Describes the house, which has a furnace, a kitchen range, hot and cold water, a bathroom.]  Does she think she would like that part of town?  Let him know immediately.  Sorry her father is doing badly.  If necessary, her mother can live with them.  "I do wish to see you so much, and little Mary."




88x69.14         Henry A. Dreer, Philadelphia, April 30, 1848, to My bien dear Wife.

                        Hoping to see his wife and baby soon, after they are able to travel from Reading to Philadelphia.  Still a possibility to get the house in Union Street, would need less expensive furniture and the rent is considerable less, $165, and it is closer to his work.  His parents oppose Nathan’s visits [probably to Sophia]. 



88x69.13         Henry A. Dreer, Reading, May 22, 1848, to Dear Sister.

                        Arrived unannounced in Reading to see his family.  Decided to take the house in Union Street, if not too late – please call on the ladies and see if it is still available for them. 



88x69.10         William F. Dreer, Ramschied (Remscheid, Germany), July 26th, 1868, to My Dear Ma. 

                        About writing letters.  Hope the home remodeling has been completed.  Grandmother would be upset with housekeeping where he is staying – his bedroom is rarely cleaned, the windows are dirty, and the dishes are not properly washed.  Intends to join a musical society in the winter; and intends to join the "Turners"  who have gymnastic apparatus; he needs that exercise.  Discourages his mother from importing 2 girls from the neighborhood for homework and cook because in this area, the wife does the housework and cooking, the girls scrub floors and dig the garden (the kind of work done African American in "our country"), and the men are either in their workshops or the beer saloons.  Cannot find the linen cuffs she packed for him.  Intends to see Charles Rumpp before he leaves Germany.  Had hoped to go to Worms for the Luther feast, but did not go.  Has not seen cream for sale, but able to buy pears and plums.  Wishes they could send tomatoes, corn, lima beans and "anything else that will tickle the palate as we do not get anything but red cabbage, fermented  sour Crout [sic], [and] Kale.”   “Frau Pfaffenbach has concluded to give us hogs hide and Bratwurst or Sausage made of pork or who knows perhaps of dog [because they wolfed down the beef she served at one meal]."  Description of a “Kermes” (carnival) and a concert [see program acc. 88x69.12] given by the 33rd Regiment Band of the Prussian Army. 


88x69.12         Schützen-halle.  Programm zum Concert, July 16, 1868.



88x69.9           William F. Dreer, Remschied (Remscheid) August 12th, 1868, to Dear Ned.

                                    Teases him about taking a trip to the new summer resort: Sitka, Alaska.  Description of the salubrious climate of Remscheid.  Asks about Fred’s business plans in New York.   "Tell him I have not seen anything very nice in the way of Meerschaum Pipes, I will have to wait until I go to the southern part of Germany."  Is there anything Ned would like for him to get for him?  Taking drawing lessons.



88x69.8           William F. Dreer, Remscheid, Aug. 27th, 1868, to Dear Pa.

            Received his letter.  Hopes the warm weather in Philadelphia is about over.  Thinks last year’s sales are good considering the poor business climate.  In Geramny, all the merchants are complaining about "Dull Times," attributed here to the expected war with France; if it should come "Louis Napp" had better be shy of these Prussians as they are well prepared to meet them. Can go to Erfurt for to order seeds as soon as he receives the order.  Making progress in speaking German.  Had nice visit with Mrs. Hassenclever, who “has but indistinct recollections of our family as it has been 22 years since she has been in America.”  No possibility of going horseback riding, no horses to have but the "Post."  Going to Cöln [i.e. Köln] next month after the railroad opens on September 1st, and from thence to Düsseldorf.



88x69.7           William F. Dreer, Remscheid, October 1st, 1868, to Dear Pa & Ma. 

            Sending the September account, trusting it will find approval.  Continues taking lessons in German and French, commercial calculations, history, and geography.  Glad business continues to improve.  "The present state of affairs, between France and Prussia, will now, no doubt come to a stand, until the Revolution is subsided in Spain. We received news last night that the Queen's troops had been driven back and badly whipped ... but when the French and Prussians come together it is going to be a hard struggle.”   Attended a Landwirtschaftliches Feast (Fest) or Exhibition in Ronsdorf; a nice show of apples and pears; the rest very much inferior to the shows of the Horticultural Society.  The agricultural implements are about 100 years behind America's; the conceited Prussians don’t believe ours are better.  Wishes there was a young men’s prayer meeting to attend.  Forwarded pansy seed and asks for a few issues of Harpers Weekly.



88x69.6           William F. Dreer, Erfurt, December 14, 1868, to Dear Pa. 

            Left Remscheid for Erfurt by train.  Met Mr. Benary and his son and visited their greenhouses [which he describes].  “He is the first business of its class in Erfurt and I may say in all Germany."  Has commenced work with Benary.  Continuing with German and French lessons and "at Ma's request to take some singing hours and also a little in Botany."   Received a catalog from Vilmorin-Andrieux et Cie., Paris, comparing prices with Benary "and I find to a few exceptions the Benary's is the cheapest and I think as good.  Sends Christmas and New Year greetings.




88x69.5           William F. Dreer, Erfurt, December 25-28, 1868, to Dear Ma.

            Loves any item of news from home, however routine.  In excellent health and is gaining weight.  Description of his daily routine and lodging.  Making good progress in learning to speak German; hopes to be as fluent in French by the time he leaves for Paris.  Gives the menu of his Dec. 26 dinner with the Benary family.  The local “spinners” [he may mean weavers, as he also mentions looms] must work almost 20 hours a day to make barely enough to live on.  Not able to reply individually to each letter he receives.  This is not a good place to get lace collars, but if goes to Belgium, will look for them there.  Death of a friend; new baby in the Dreer family.  




88x69.4           William F. Dreer, Erfurt, December 25-29, 1868, to Dear Ned

                        Rather low today because missing family at Christmas.  Describes his living quarters and his daily routine or work and study.  Hopes to take singing and dance lessons in the new year.  Hopes he and Mary patch up their differences; would be happy to have Ned as a brother-in-law.   Writes about a young nephew starting school.  Describes local celebration of Christmas.  Brief history and description of Erfurt and local farms.   Replies to news of events in Philadelphia.



88x69.3           William F. Dreer, Erfurt, Jan. 4th, 1868 [sic, i.e.1869], to Dear Pa.

            Seed order received, to be shipped by Benary to Vilmorin in Paris, and forwarded from there; also sends carnation seeds, and "I send you a list of seeds that Benary could not fill and which I ordered from Vilmorin & Co."   Sorry to hear of death of Charles Tower; he himself has been well.  Went to Weimar to the opera and saw "The Postilion de Lonjumeau" [by Adolphe Adam] sung by the great tenor Wachtel [Theodor Wachtel, 1823-1893]. Needes an eye salve, "I have but little faith in sassafras pith."  Will make inquiries about the dried flowers.

                        Includes financial “statement ending December 31st, 1868,” for William’s expenses for the month, including railroad fare, lodging, meals, postage, etc.    



88x69.2a-b      The Parents [Henry and Mary Dreer], Weisbaden [i.e. Wiesbaden, Germany, and also Frankfurt], July 14, 1869, to The Loved Ones at Home

            Describes of their activities, including a boat ride on the Rhine river, via Coblentz and Bingen where they stopped and visited the Klopp castle, one of the oldest upon the Rhine, founded by the Romans. "In this castle Henry the Fourth was confined, I saw his cell which is as original.”  Discusses the castles built by the Romans along the Rhine.  Now at Wiesbaden, a watering place popular among the “fashion” of Germany for its waters and casinos.  Enjoyed the park there.  Going on to Frankfurt, where found letters telling of deaths at home.  Has some new ideas about dressing hair.  Hoping to sail home on the 2nd of September.



88x69.1           envelope addressed to Miss Mary L. Dreer, Philadelphia, postmarked Frankfurt, July 15; for letter above (acc. 88x69.2a-b)


88x69.16         brown envelope addressed to Mrs. Henry A Dreer, Reading, Pa.  Stamp and postmark have been removed.  However, postmark on back is dated April 24.


88x69.11         brown envelope addressed to Mrs. Henry A Dreer, care of W. C. Leavenworth, Reading, Pa.  Stamp and postmark have been removed.