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William Henry Prestele

Born: Bavaria

William Henry Prestele was born Wilherlm Heinrich Prestele on October 13, 1838 in Hessen-Darmstadt, Bavaria. He came to the U.S. with his parents in 1843 and spent his youth in Ebenezer, New York. He left Western New York for New York City in the 1850s, then in 1861 enlisted to serve during the Civil War in Company E, 26th Regiment, New York Volunteers, and was stationed in Alexandria, Virginia. He returned to New York, married his wife Ann, and was living on Ninth Avenue when their daughter Margaret was born in 1864. (Later, using the name Elisabeth, his daughter became his “artist’s apprentice.”)

Prestele was part of an artistic family led by his father Joseph Prestele and joined by his brothers Joseph Jr. and Gottlieb. They all became known for their botanical illustrations in watercolor, ink, and chromolithograph media.

In 1867, W. H. Prestele was hired by Franklin Kelsey Phoenix, owner of the Bloomington [Illinois] Nursery, which would become the second largest nursery in the US., to make a line of nurserymen's plates. He supervised the preparation of design for the plates and their coloring after they were printed.

During the 1870s, William Henry published Prestele Lithographed Colored Plates in Iowa City “in four sizes: large (12 by 9 inches), selling for 15 and 20 cents; a pocket edition (9 by 6 inches), at 15 cents; and two small editions (8 by 5, and 7 by 5 inches)—the reason for making editions so near in size was not explained. Bound collections of forty plates sold for $6.50 (large size), $6 (pocket edition), and $5.50 and $5 for the small editions.” [1]

In 1887, Prestele was appointed the first artist on staff of the newly created Pomological Division of the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. He made detailed watercolors and ink drawings of fruits, one of America’s major crops, to communicate crucial information to growers nationwide. Each drawing was to show “both the exterior and interior of the fruit, with the leaves and twigs characteristic of each.” Importantly, “each of the pomologist’s reports for the years 1887 to 1892 include from six to eight chromolithographs of watercolors signed ‘Wm. H. Prestele fecit.'" [2]

For more information on William Henry Prestele, visit "Drawings from Nature" at


[1] Quoted in Charles Van Ravenswaay, Drawn from Nature: The Botanical Art of Josephe Prestele and His Sons. (Washington, DC, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1984), p. 110.

[2] Quoted in Van Ravenswaay. See above.