The earliest written record of named apple varieties in North
America were advertisements printed as broadsides or placed in
newspapers by owners of nurseries. Two of the earliest were the
William Smith nursery in Virginia (1755, 21 varieties) and the
Prince nursery on Long Island (1771, 42 varieties [here's what the
Prince Catalogue looked like]).
Three books merit special attention among the important treatices
- Andrew Jackson Downing and Samuel Downing. The
Fruits and Fruit-trees of America:
Or, the Culture, Propagation, and Management, in the Garden
and Orchard, of Fruit-Trees Generally. The first edition
of this great authority came out in 1845, being the first
attempt to list and describe all the varieties of fruit known in
the United States. It was revised several times by his son over
then next several decades. Editions available online include Darwin's
copy of the 1845 edition and some of Darwin's notes;
the first revised edition from 1865;
a revised edition with the title Selected
from Downing's Fruits and Fruit-Trees of America
(1871); and the second revised edition of 1881, but published in
the Apple: a catalogue of the known varieties
referred to in American publications from 1804 to 1904.
Compiled by W. H. Ragan. Washington, D.C. : U.S. G.P.O., 1905.
[Bulletin No. 56. United States. Bureau of Plant Industry.] This
work is the most extensive catalogue ever compiled of named
varieties of apples found in North America. It includes other
names the varieties were known by and has a table to record
descriptions and features.
- The Apples of New York, by Spencer Ambrose Beach
(1905), became something of a Bible for apple growers. Beach was
a horticulturist at the New York Agricultural Experiment Station
at Geneva and was known as the leading pomologist of his day. In
two colorfully illustrated volumes, Beach provided as complete
descriptions of apples as had ever been compiled before. The
ample historical sections and list of references he provides for
each apple described testifies to his research in both the field
and in the library. Both volumes are available online from
One key feature of Beach's descriptions was the rating for
the quality of the fruit's flesh. The rating should not be
considered an overall rating of the quality of the fruit nor
the tree. Many highly rated apples were not commercially
viable. Key defects were shy or unreliable cropping, poor
keeping, and too tender for shipping. As a result, many of the
top rated apples have disappeared or been almost forgotten.
Beach appears to have relied on A. J. Downing or other
previous pomologists for some of the ratings, since he notes
for some top rated apples that "we have not seen this
variety." With that caveat, here are Beach's top rated apples:
Volume I (Winter) [24 apples]:
Best: Green Newtown and Yellow Newtown. Very
to Best: Bullock [American Golden Russet], Esopus
Spitzenburg, Hubbardston, Hunt Russet, Jonathan, Lady Sweet [not
Lady, aka Api], Newark Pippin, Newtown Spitzenburg, Northern
Spy, Peck Pleasant, Pomme Grise, Swaar, Swazie, Tompkins King,
Wagener, Westfield Seek-No-Further. Good to Best:
Very Good to Best (with caveats): Ellsworth
[but he had not seen], Evening Party [but little grown in New
York], Grimes [but generally does not develop in color, size,
and quality as well in New York as in more southern
latitudes]; Pryor [a southern apple not well adapted to New
York], White [Winter] Pearmain [a midwest apple not
recommended for planting in New York].
Volume II (Summer and Fall) [10 apples]:
Best: Summer Pearmain. Very Good to
Best: Autumn Sweet Swaar; Cox Orange; Dyer; Early
Joe; Gravenstein; McIntosh; Mother; Primate; Victuals and
Drink [but never much cultivated in New York. Oddly, only a
few years later Beach's successor, U. P. Hedrick, called
Victuals and Drink poor and worthless. It now appears to be
Other Historical Sources
Here are other historical sources available online, mostly
through Google Books or Hathi Trust. Titles in bold have been the
most widely cited.
Ancient and Medieval
- Apples, or round fleshy fruits, are mentioned often in Greek
and Roman mythology – there is confusion in translating the
words and in context may mean any fruit, any pome fruit, or
apples. Horace and, centuries later, Apicius mention apples
generically in descriptions of cooking and dining, but Cato and
Pliny are among the few to mention apple varieties by name in an
agricultural sense. Pliny in Natural
History named many varieties of apples, but it is
not all clear that they were fruits we would recognize as apples
(malus domesticus). In his chapter on apple varieties
labeled "Fruits That Have Been Recently Introduced," listed
among the new introductions are Matian, Cestian, Mallian, and
Scandian, Appian, Petisian, Amerinian, Græculan, Gemella,
Syricum, Melapium, Musteum, Melimelum, Orbiculatum,
Orthomastium, Spadonium, Melofolium, Pannuceum, Pulmoneum, and
Farinacean. Pliny also mentions Sceptian and Quirinian, but Cato
in his De Agricultura seems to be describing two
varieties of quinces. Pliny also mentions "wild apples with
remarkably fine flavor, peculiar pungency, or such acidity that
they could blunt a sword blade." Without much evidence, it is
thought that the Lady apple was one of these Roman varieties,
perhaps from this description: "The latest of all to be
introduced is the small apple known as the Petisian that is
remarkable for its most agreeable flavor."
- The Capitulare
de villis, issued during Charlemagne's reign before
800 CE, listed rules and regulations regarding proper estate
management and economic justice. Apple and pear trees were
"As for trees, it is our wish that they shall have various kinds
of apple, pear, plum, sorb, medlar, chestnut and peach; quince,
hazel, almond, mulberry, laurel, pine, fig, nut and cherry trees
of various kinds. The names of apples are: gozmaringa,
geroldinga, crevedella, spirauca; there are sweet ones, bitter
ones, those that keep well, those that are to be eaten
straightaway, and early ones. Of pears they are to have three or
four kinds, those that keep well, sweet ones, cooking pears and
the late-ripening ones."
15th through 18th Centuries
- There are many references to apples in Shakespeare, and some
to specific varieties. Characters in his plays mention pippins,
bitter-sweets, and crabs. A codling was an elongated apple
variety that was especially hard. Apple-johns appear to be a
now-lost variety known to shrivel.Shakespeare wasn't the first
or only English speaker to call russet apples l eathercoats.
Pomewater was a very juicy apple. Costards are a great mystery,
since they were once such a popular variety that apple sellers
were called costermongers, but no modern apple variety has been
positively identified as a costard.Costard so epitomized rural
life that in Loves Labours Lost, Shakespeare named a
witty country bumpkin Costard. The bard more often used costard
to mean someone's head than a fruit.
- John Gerard. The
Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes, 1597. Here
is the first English reference source to name varieties of
apples. Either the varieties have changed names, or they have
disappeared. Baker's Ditch, Pome Water, and Quining, or Queene
of Apples (which may or may not be a Reinette, since reinette is
French for queen). Both the Summer Pearmain and Winter Pearmain
(which may or may not be the White Winter Pearmain) are named.
This is the first unambiguous reference to the pearmain as an
apple variety. According to the Oxford English Dictionary,
before this time, it is unclear whether the fruit called
pearmain refers to a variety of apple or pear, but would be most
likely a reference to a pear. Therefore, take any claims that
the White Winter Pearmain is the oldest known English variety of
apple, dating back to 1200, as suspect.
- Michael Drayton. The
Poly-Olbion: a Chorographicall Description of Great Britain,
1613. A long poem that describes apples in the Eighteenth Song.
Mentioned are the Pippin; the Apple-Orendge; the savoury
Russetting; the Peare-maine, "which to France long ere to us was
known;" the Renat (an alternate spelling of Reinette and
possibly the same variety as Gerard's Queening); the Sweeting,
"for whose sake the plow-boys oft make war;" the Wilding;
Costard; and the "well-known Pomwater."
- John Parkinson was the first comprehensive compiler of apple
varieties. He names at least 53 in "The Orchard," the third part
of his Paradisi
in Sole Paradisus Terrestris [Paradisi in Sole
is a pun on his name Park-in-Sun], 1629. The varieties named in
Shakespeare all appear, and several varieties still known today
are first mentioned in this work.
- John Worlidge's Vinetum
Britannicum: Ora Treatise of Cider and Other Wines and
Drinks, 1675, also includes information about
geowing and propagating fruits. Worlidge describes many
varieties of apples, some long gone, many still familiar. He
explains the origin of the word "pippin" as an apple with many
prominent dots, not an apple growing from seed.
- Stephen Switzer. The
Practical Fruit-Gardener. Second edition, 1731. In
defining the prefered qualities with which an apple opught to be
endowed, the author states "the first is, that it be not too
large, that the Pulp and Skin be not tough, but short and as
melting as possible, that the Taste of it be rather sharp than
sweet, or rather that there be an agreeable Mixture of both:
This for Winter Apples. Those for the Summer may be indeed of a
finer sugar'd Juice, because they are for present Eating; but
give me the Sharpness of the Nonpareil for Winter Spending
rather than the Beauty or Sweetness of the Callville Api, or any
of the so much magnified French Apples." Describes nine
varieties, including Golden Pippin (the finest and most
valuable), White Calville, Frank Ranbourge (Summer Rambo), and
Pome d'Api (Lady), and lists almost 20 more.
- Thomas Hitt. A
Treatise of Fruit-trees, 1757. Some varieties are
named, such as the Margaret apple in context of the first apple
of the season, and most are variations of names coupled with
pippin, russet, rennet, codlin, and pearmain.
- J. Gibson. The
Containing the Method of Raising Stocks, for Multiplying of
Fruit-trees, by Budding, Grafting, &c ... with a
Description of Some of the Best Kinds of Fruit, and the
Characters of the Trees, as to Growing and Bearing,
- John Abercrombie. The
British Fruit-gardener (Dublin: 1781). The chapter
on apples names 44 varieties and provides advice on grafting,
pruning, storage, and other care of apples.
- A. F. M. Willich, and James Mease. Domestic
Encyclopedia. 1st American edition, 1802-4.
Willich wrote the English
edition; Mease provided additions "applicable to the
present situation of the United States. In volume
three, under the heading of Fruit-trees, is the fullest
description of apple varieties. Sixty of the most cultivated
apple varieties, plus 19 cyder apples, are described. In
contrast, in the English edition, only 23 apples mentioned in
the Orchard section, and only New-town Pippin was an American
variety. In volume
one of the American edition, under Apple-trees is a
general article on Apple-trees and their care. In volume
two is a lengthy article on Cyder. Further information
about planting and care of trees can be found in volume
four under Orchard.
- William Forsyth. Treatise
the Culture and Management of Fruit Trees, 1802. This work
describes 44 varieties grown in England and enumerates 60 more.
- William Coxe's A
View of the Cultivation of Fruit Trees, and the Management
of Orchards and Cider;
with Accurate Descriptions of the Most Estimable Varieties
of and Foreign Apples, Pears, Peaches, Plums, and Cherries,
Cultivated in the Middle States of America,
1817. This was the first book published in America with a
comprehensive and annotated list of varieties of apples and
- Thomas Andrew Knight. Pomona
Herefordiensis, 1811. Contains coloured engravings
and descriptive accounts of the apple and pear varieties found
in Herefordshire that were old even then. Concentrates on fruits
used in cider and perry.
- James Thacher. The
American Orchardist: Or, A Practical Treatise
on the Culture and Management of Apple and Other Fruit Trees.
2d Edition (1825). Includes both descriptions of apple varieties
and the author's "Most Approved Method of Manufacturing and
Catalogue of the Fruits Cultivated in the Garden of the
Horticultural Society of London, 1831. The first to
list apples in a table with columns for colour, form, size,
quality, season, and uses.
- John Rogers (Nurseryman). The
Fruit Cultivator, being a practical and accurate description
of all the most esteemed species and varieties of fruit
cultivated in the gardens and orchards of Britain, 1834.
It may not be surprising that a high percentage of the varieties
of apples described are now unknown.
- Robert Manning. Book
of Fruits; Being a Descriptive Catalogue of the Most
Valuable Varieties of the Pear, Apple, Peach, Plum &
Cherry, for New England Culture: Being a Descriptive Catalogue
of the Most Valuable Varieties of the Pear, Apple, Peach, Plum
& Cherry, for New-England Culture. Ives & Jewett,
- Samuel Cole. American
Book, 1849. With directions for raising fruit and
descriptions of the best varieties. Cole was the grandson of the
discoverer of the Cole's Quince.
- George Jaques.A
Practical Treatise on the Management of Fruit Trees; With
Descriptive Lists of the Most Valuable for Cultivation;
Adapted to the Interior of New England, 1849.
- Ebenezer Emmons. Natural
History of New York. Report on the Agriculture of New York,
Volume III. Albany: 1851. Chapter Two, Varieties of Apples, is a
96 page synopsis of the varieties and descriptions of summer,
autumn and winter apples.
- Robert Hogg. British
Pomology; Or, The History, Description,
Classification, and Synonymes, of the Fruits and Fruit Trees
of Great Britain. Vol.1, The Apple, 1851. The most
complete book on the apple when it was published, it includes
descriptions of 942 apples, including North American varieties.
- C.M Hovey. Fruits of America. 1852. Volume One
Only a few apple varieties are included in each volume, and
their descriptions are interspersed with varieties of pears,
cherries, peaches, plums, and strawberries.The description,
however, are detailed and well illustrated. There was a quarrel
between Hovey and A. J. Downing with claims that Hovey was
unfairly giving more favorable reviews to New England apples and
that Downing was biased toward apples that flourished in the
Hudson Valley of New York.
- F. R. Elliott. Elliott's
Fruit Book; Or, The American Fruit-grower's Guide in
Orchard and Garden, 1854.
- E. J. Hooper. Hooper's
fruit book: a Compendium Collection of Facts,
from the Notes and Experiences of Successful Fruit
Culturists, Arranged for Practical Use in the Orchard and
Garden, 1857. Note: when the book
was published, the "western states" included Indiana, Illinois,
Kentucky, and Ohio.
- Henry Ward Beecher. Plain and pleasant talk about
fruits, flowers and farming. 1st
ed., 1859, & 2d
- Charles Baker. Practical
and scientific fruit culture, 1866.
- J. A. Warder. American
Apples, 1867. Warder was the first American
pomologist to create an systematic classification of apple.
- W. C. Flagg. "The
Apple," found in the Missouri Yearbook of Agriculture:
1867 Annual Report. An essay covering the history of the apple,
a discussion of various classification schemes, recommendations
of varieties, and poetry. The essay, which begins on page 395,
was based on a Wednesday evening address given by a
"distinguished and literate apple grower" from Alton, Ill.
- Sereno Edwards Todd. The
Apple Culturist: A Complete Treatise for the Practical
- James Fitz. The
Southern Apple and Peach Culturist, 1872.
- John Jacob Thomas. The
American Fruit Culturist, 1875.
- Archibald A. Barron. British
report of the Committee of the National Apple Congress,
October 5th to 25th, 1883.
- Samuel Taylor Maynard. The
Practical Fruit Grower, 1909 (c1885).
List, prepared by L.R. Taft for Bulletin 105 of the
Michigan Horticultural Department, is included in the Annual
report of the secretary of the State Horticultural Society of
Michigan, 1894, starting on page 314.
- George Bunyard, one of England's leading orchardists, created
a well annotated catalog. The 1898
catalog is online.
Boomgaard, illustrations and descriptions (translated into
English) of apples from a 19th Century Dutch book.
- H. H. Thomas. The
of the Apple. London: J. Lane, 1902.
- J. L. Budd, assisted by Niels Ebbesen Hansen [who prepared the
chapter on apples], American Horticultural Manual,
Volume II: Systematic
- Edward Payson Powell. The
Orchard and Fruit Garden, 1905. Includes a
long chapter on apple varieties, describing them and arranging
them in different lists for use, season, and geography.
- Frank A. Waugh. Systematic
treating of the description, nomenclature, and
classification of fruits, 1914, c1903.
- C.C. Newman. Notes
on varieties of apple. South Carolina Agricultural
Experiment Station, 1905.
- Charles Scoon Wilson. The
history of the apple in New York State. Master's
Thesis, Cornell University, 1905.
Ontario 1906. Toronto: Ontario Department of Agriculture,
- Richard Lamb Allen, revised by Lewis F. Allen. New
American farm book. Orange Judd, 1908.
- Frank A. Waugh. The
American apple orchard: a sketch of the practice of apple
growing in North America at the beginning of the twentieth
century. New York: Orange Judd Company, 1908.
- Linus Woolverton. The
Canadian Apple Grower's Guide, 1910.
- John P. Stewart. The Apple in Pennsylvania; Varieties,
Planting, and General Care. Bulletin of the Pennsylvania
Agricultural Experiment Station. State College, Pa., 1910
- M. C. Burritt. Apple
growing. New York: Outing, 1912.
of fruit culture: Varieties of apples; Apple culture;
Apple pests and injuries; Apple harvesting, storing, and
marketing; Pear culture; Cherries, apricots, and quinces.
Volume 124 of the International Library of Technology.
International Textbook Company, 1913.
- Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture. Apple
growing. 4th Edition. Wright & Potter [state
- Granville Lowther and William Worthington. The
encyclopedia of practical horticulture: a reference
system of commercial horticulture, covering the practical and
scientific phases of horticulture, with special reference to
fruits and vegetables. Encyclopedia of horticulture
- W.J. Green, Paul Thayer, and J.B. Keil. Varieties
Apples in Ohio in Bulletin of the Ohio Agricultural
Experiment Station, No. 290, 1915. Another version of the
list is found in Dependable
Fruit, Bulletin No. 313, 1917.
- Bliss S. Brown. Modern
marketing; a complete treatise covering harvesting, packing,
storing, transporting and selling of fruit. New
York : Orange Judd, 1916.
- H. P. Gould. Apples
: Production Estimates and Important Commercial Dstricts and
Varieties. USDA Bulletin 485, 1917. Estimates of
the most popular varieties in the country and by state. The two
top varieties among 35 listed were Baldwin and Ben Davis. Each
of those two had slightly more than 13% of the US market.
- Liberty Hyde Bailey. The
Tree. New York: Macmillan, 1922. Cornell's most
famous horticulturalist expounds on the history, care, biology,
and an appreciation of the apple.
- Maurice Kains. Home
Fruit Grower. Delamare, 1918.
- Edward Bunyard took over his father's enterprise, but he was
much more of an epicure in his enjoyment of fruit and was a
clever, witty, and skillful writer as well. Bunyard's The
of Dessert and The Epicure's Companion are
still in print, but his earlier A
Handbook of Hardy Fruits More Commonly Grown in Great
Britain, Volume One: Apples and Pears
(1920), long out of print, is online.
- John Clifford Folger & Samuel Mable Thomson. The
apple industry of North America. Macmillan, 1921.
- U. P. Hedrick. Cyclopedia of Hardy Fruit.
Macmillan, 1922. One the last comprehensive compilations of
apples (or other fruit) with detailed descriptions. Available
Trust, and Google
Books. The section on apples was also published in 1913
with almost the same content as Apples,
Old and New.
- Victor Ray Gardner, Frederick Charles Bradford, and Henry
Daggett Hooker. Fundamentals
Fruit Production. New York: McGraw-Hill Book
- Victor Ray Gardner, Frederick Charles Bradford, and Henry
Daggett Hooker. Orcharding.
New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1927.
- Magness, J.R. Apple
and important producing sections of the United States: Farmers
Bulletin No. 1883. U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1941
- Robert Mumford Smock and Alfred Max Neubert. Apples
apple products. New York: Interscience, 1950.