Using historical seed catalogues in combination with molecular fingerprinting data, diversity trends of lettuce, representing an important vegetable with active breeding programmes, were studied. Seed catalogues originating from France and the Netherlands from five different decades, the earliest dating from the 1840s, were checked for the occurence of lettuce cultivars. A total of 225 catalogues, with 7,311 records of lettuce, representing 878 different cultivars were found. The number of unique cultivars on offer by French and Dutch companies showed a small continuous increase until the 1960s, after which the number of cultivars on offer more than doubled to a total of 534 in the 1990s. Only a relatively small overlap between France and the Netherlands in the range of cultivars offered was observed. The 1960s appeared to be a period with many changes: the lowest genetic diversity in lettuce cultivars was found for this decade, whereas after the 1960s the number of companies supplying lettuce seeds reduced dramatically. The percentage of companies in a decade offering an identical cultivar decreased over time, and in the 1990s almost all cultivars were unique to only a single company. The possible relations of the observed trends with the developments in plant variety protection and in the plant breeding industry are discussed.