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Wilhelm Heinrich (William Henry) Prestele Papers


The Wilhelm Heinrich (William Henry) Prestele Papers span the years 1887-1891. The collection is 12 linear feet and occupies 8 oversized folio boxes. The collection was housed in storage at the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Division of Pomology in Washington D.C., then transferred to the Arlington Farm in Virginia. Subsequently, it was moved to the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland, and finally placed in the Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library. Materials are in good condition. The collection was partially arranged and described by Sara B. Lee in 1997, and further arranged and described by Jennifer L. Hogue in 2002.



Biographical Sketch

October 13, 1838 Born in Hessen-Darmstadt, Germany, to Franz Joseph Martin Prestele (also a painter and lithographer of flowers and fruits) and Karoline Russ. Raised in the Amana Community in Iowa.
1867 Hired to make a series of nurserymen's plates by Franklin Kelsey Phoenix, owner of the Bloomington [Illinois] Nursery.
Late 1871-early 1872 Ended relationship with Phoenix. Remained in Bloomington and went into business with L. B. Littlefield, publishing fruit and flower plates.
1872 Produced a mammoth "Showcard" printed in St. Louis, Missouri.
1875 Set up as lithographer in Iowa City, Iowa.
1879 Published a catalogue listing 472 titles of plates he had in stock.
August 1, 1887 Appointed as the first artist on the staff of the Pomological Division of the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.
Around 1887 Assigned to make life-size watercolors of native grapes intended as illustrations for a monograph by Thomas Volney Munson of Denison, Texas, a leading authority on native grapes.
August 16, 1895 Died at Arlington, Virginia, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Scope and Content Note

The papers of Wilhelm Heinrich (William Henry) Prestele (1838-1895), artist, contain 12 linear feet of watercolors, pencil sketches, papers, plant materials, an album cover, and a portfolio, housed in 8 oversized folio boxes. This collection spans the years 1887-1891 and contains materials created as Prestele worked on illustrations intended for a monograph on native grapes by Thomas Volney Munson.

W. H. Prestele was appointed as the first artist of the Pomology Division of the United States Department of Agriculture on August 1, 1887. Also in 1887, T. V. Munson was appointed a Special Agent by the Division of Pomology to prepare a monograph on the native species of Vitis. This monograph was planned to contain descriptions of and interrelationships among the species and was to be illustrated with a color plate of each species. Prestele was assigned to create these plates. Preparation of the color plates was a slow process. Munson sent live and dried specimens, photographs, and sometimes detailed sketches of flowers or buds. Prestele then made color sketches of such details as shoot tips, leaves, and clusters, and sent these from Washington, D.C., to Munson in Denison, Texas, who suggested corrections if necessary. Finally, Prestele would assemble the parts into a single life-size painting for each species. The evolution of some of these watercolors can be seen in the collection through pencil sketches, notes, corrections, and specimens of dried plant material.

Munson completed the text before the paintings were finished. A four page typescript of the original manuscript, on a single species, Vitis californica, was found with the collection. The report of the Secretary of Agriculture for 1891 states that both the text and illustrations were complete, but that the cost was so great that use of the regular printing fund could not be justified. The USDA Pomologist hoped that Congress would appropriate special funds for this project, but such funds were never obtained. The only USDA publication of Munson's work is the Division of Pomology Bulletin, No. 3, "Classification and Generic Synopsis of the Wild Grapes of North America," by T. V. Munson, printed in Washington, D.C., in 1890. The manuscript was left with Munson, at first for revision or corrections, and when hopes for the publication of the monograph faded, he was given permission to use it for his 1909 Foundations of American Grape Culture.

Prestele's papers were housed in storage at the USDA's Division of Pomology in Washington, D.C., then transferred to the Arlington Farm in Virginia, moved to the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland, and finally placed in the Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library.

This collection has been described at the item level, including a description and dimensions for each item. Folder descriptions are by Special Collections staff with original labeling in quotes, rendered exactly as it appears. Prestele frequently used abbreviations such as "cold." for "colored," sometimes varying the forms of abbreviation. For all watercolors and sketches, the term "branch" is used for a thick, brown, mature vine, and the term "vine" for a thin, green, young vine. One or more watercolor images may appear on the same page. Descriptions of separate images are divided by semi-colons. In the descriptions for all watercolors and sketches, notation has been made of whether they are signed or unsigned. All other materials, including tracings and other papers, in the collection are unsigned.

Series Description

Series I. Album Watercolors and Papers. 4 Boxes.

Series I consists of Prestele's completed grape variety watercolors, as well as smaller, preliminary watercolors, sketches, tracings, and notes and papers. Included in the papers is a four page typescript on Vitis californica. Also contained in this series is an album cover which presumably held the final watercolors. The only plant specimens in this series are housed in box 3. Boxes 1 and 2 contain watercolors, box 3 consists of papers, pencil sketches, and watercolors, and box 4 houses the album cover.

Series II. Portfolio Papers, Pencil Sketches, and Watercolors. 3 Boxes.

Series II contains watercolors, pencil sketches, tracings, notes, and plant specimens. All items in this series were contained in the portfolio cover which is included in box 5 of this series. Plant specimens are interspersed throughout boxes 6 and 7. For materials in boxes 6 and 7, original labeling which was lined out, presumably by Prestele and/or Munson, has been replicated as closely as possible in the descriptions. The first item listed for each folder in boxes 6 and 7 is the paper folder that contained all of the subsequently listed items while they were stored in the portfolio.

Series III. Related Materials. 1 Box.

Series III consists of a one page history of the collection by J. R. McGrew, and a framed biographical sketch of W. H. Prestele. These items are related information but not specifically collection material.


Information for the Biographical Sketch and the Scope and Content Note was taken from the following sources:

McGrew, J. R. "Excerpts from The W. H. Prestele paintings of the American species of grapes." Typescript. USDA Fruit Laboratory, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, n.d. William Heinrich (William Henry) Prestele Papers. Special Collections, National Agricultural Library.

Munson, Thomas Volney. "Classification and generic synopsis of the wild grapes of North America." Division of Pomology Bulletin, No. 3. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1890.
NAL Call No. 452.3 M92C

Munson, Thomas Volney. Foundations of American grape culture. New York: Orange Judd Company, [c1909].
NAL Call No. 95.2 M92

Van Ravenswaay, Charles. Drawn from Nature: the Botanical Art of Joseph Prestele and His Sons. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1984.
NAL Call No. QK98.183.P74V36

Additional resources related to Prestele:

USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection. Special Collections, National Agricultural Library.

Special Collections, National Agricultural Library. "USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection."

National Clonal Germplasm Repository at Corvallis, Oregon. "USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection." Accessed March 14, 2002 from

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