The earliest written record of named apple varieties in North
America were advertisements printed as broadsides or placed in
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 1841 Prince Catalogue
Three books merit special attention among the important
treatices on pomology:
- 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
Fruits from Downing's Fruits and Fruit-Trees of America
(1871); and the second revised edition of 1881, but published in 1900.
of 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
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 multiple sources:
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
Volume I (Winter) [24 apples]:
Best: Green Newtown and Yellow Newtown. Very
Good 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: Red Canada
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 extinct].
Other Historical Sources
Here are other historical sources available online, mostly
through Google Books or Cornell's Core Historical Literature of
Agriculture. 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).
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, Gręculan,
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 included:|
"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
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
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.
- Stephen Switzer. The Practical
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
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
Fruit-gardener: 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, 1768.
- John Abercrombie. The British
(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. Domestic
1st American edition, 1802. Of 23 apples mentioned in the section on
Orchard, only New-town Pippin was an American variety. The only
European apples listed that succeeded into the next century were
White Winter Calville, Gravenstein, and Russian Ice-apple (Astrakhan).
- William Forsyth. Treatise
on the Culture and Management of Fruit Trees, 1802. This work
describes 44 varieties grown in England and enumerates 60 more.
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 other fruits.
- 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 Preserving
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.
- 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, 1838.
- Samuel Cole. American
Fruit Book, 1849. With directions for raising fruit and
descriptions of the
best varieties. Cole was the grandson of the discoverer of the Cole's
- 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
- 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
- C.M Hovey. Fruits of America. 1852. Volume One and Two.
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,
- E. J. Hooper. Hooper's
Western 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 ed.,
- Charles Baker. Practical and
scientific fruit culture, 1866.
- J. A. Warder. American
pomology. 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
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
- Sereno Edwards Todd. The Apple
Culturist: A Complete Treatise for the Practical Pomologist,
- James Fitz. The Southern
Apple and Peach Culturist, 1872.
- John Jacob Thomas. The American
Fruit Culturist, 1875.
- Archibald A. Barron. British
apples: report of the Committee of the National Apple Congress,
October 5th to 25th, 1883.
- Samuel Taylor Maynard. The Practical
Fruit Grower, 1909 (c1885).
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
Nederlandsche Boomgaard, illustrations and descriptions (translated
into English) of apples from a 19th Century Dutch book.
- H. H. Thomas. The
Book 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
pomology: treating of the description, nomenclature, and classification
of fruits, 1914, c1903.
- C.C. Newman. Notes on
varieties of apple. South Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station,
- Charles Scoon Wilson. The history of
the apple in New York State. Master's Thesis, Cornell
of Ontario 1906. Toronto: Ontario Department of Agriculture, 1906.
- 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 & 1914.
- M. C. Burritt. Apple
growing. New York: Outing, 1912.
- Essentials of
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 printers]: 1913.
- 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 corporation, 1914.
- W.J. Green, Paul Thayer, and J.B. Keil. Varieties
of 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
fruit marketing; a complete treatise covering harvesting, packing,
storing, transporting and selling of fruit. New York : Orange
- Liberty Hyde Bailey. The
Apple 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.
- 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
Anatomy 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) is online.
- John Clifford Folger & Samuel Mable Thomson. The
commercial 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 through Biodiversity
Heritage Library, Hathi
Trust, and Google
Books. The section on apples was also published in 1913 with almost
the same content as Apples, Old and
- Victor Ray Gardner, Frederick Charles Bradford, and Henry
Daggett Hooker. Fundamentals
of Fruit Production. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1922.
- Victor Ray Gardner, Frederick Charles Bradford, and Henry
Daggett Hooker. Orcharding.
New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1927.
- Magness, J.R.Apple
varieties 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
and apple products. New York: Interscience, 1950. Available
through Cornell's Core Historical Literature of Agriculture.