If you stop at the T-junction where Scott Drive meets Middle Dyke Road north of Kentville and look southeast, you can see remnants of the famous Hillcrest Orchards, which at one time were renowned across Canada.
Arthur W. H. Eaton salutes these orchards in his history of Kings County (page 196) noting the fruit grown there, “apples, pears, plums quinces and cherries are known to fruit raisers all over the continent.” Eaton mentions the orchards again on page 203, referring to Ralph Samuel Eaton and his “famous Cornwallis (township) ‘Hillcrest Orchards’ not far from the county town (of Kentville).”
One of my friends, Jerry Bishop of Coldbrook, is an avid collector of coins and postcards. One of the most remarkable and rarest postcards in his collection has a beautiful color photograph of an orchard in full bloom. This photograph will be recognised by anyone familiar with the orchard pictured on Royal Albert Blossom Time China.
In other words, the orchard on the postcard and the orchard captured on Blossom Time China are one and the same – the famed Hillcrest Orchards of Ralph Samuel Eaton. The year the postcard was printed and released isn’t certain but it’s generally believed that it was circa 1933 or 1934 that Blossom Time China came into existence. Since then the china has been hailed as the most prized and most enduring Apple Blossom Festival keepsake ever.
In 1933, with two successful summer festivals under their collective belts, the Kentville Board of Trade was firming up plans for another event, the first apple blossom festival. On the organizing committee was Kentville jeweller Robert Palmeter. Festival lore has it that Palmeter made a motion at a Board of Trade meeting to hold a festival with an apple blossom theme. Whether this is true or not, it’s a fact that around this time Palmeter submitted a design to Royal Albert China of England that resulted in the manufacture of Blossom Time China.
It likely was 1934 before Blossom Time China was available in retail stores, but that’s only my guess; some sources say the china was available in 1933. Whatever the year, the pattern was popular for decades and was sold worldwide. Eric Lockhart, of R. D. Chisholm Ltd. in Kentville, tells me his store sold the china almost from the day it was first available until it was discontinued in 1991. “It was a good seller,” Lockhart said, even though Royal Albert kept jacking the price up year after year.
Since its “retirement,” Blossom Time China has become a hot collectible. It’s rather pricey today, however, compared to what it sold for when it first came out. At a giant “yard sale” this spring at the Kentville arena, for example, the asking price for a Blossom time cup and saucer was $45.00. In 1936, Robert Palmeter offered the cup and saucer at his Kentville jewellery store for a mere 90 cents!
It may interest readers that Palmeter’s Blossom Time isn’t the only china with an apple blossom theme. There are at least two more with apple blossom themes but these haven’t been as popular as Palmeter’s design. Readers may also be interested in knowing that Palmeter designed another china pattern. In 1953 he submitted a design for a “new, original and ornamental design for a cup or similar article” to the United States Patent Office. Palmeter called this china Evangeline’s Acadian Gardens. The pattern application was approved and Palmeter later advertised the china in his Kentville shop.
As for the photograph of Hillcrest Orchards used in the design of Blossom Time China, I always wondered if it had been taken by A. L. Hardy. Photography expert Larry Keddy says it’s a possibility. “Hardy was the only professional photographer in this area at the time that was capable of doing that kind of work,” Keddy says.