Rediscovering Victorian Era Trade Cards

Visits: 977

Long-Lost Advertising Offers Timeless Art

Chances are that when most people of recent generations hear the term “trade card,” they would associate it with trading cards that encompass baseball or Marvel superheroes. In reality, trade cards, formerly known as advertising cards, were one of the earliest and most dominant forms of advertising. 

It highlighted nearly every industry in a most creative manner between lithographic imagery, typography, illustrations, and descriptions with slogans, making them a valuable work of art and collector’s item in today’s society. Their golden age spans 1876 to the early 20th century, and during the Victorian period, it was a tendency for people to collect and preserve keepsakes, as well as trade them. 

This columnist is a deltiologist, primarily consisting of vintage postcard collection, but owns a small quantity of trade cards. New Yorkers from all boroughs, as well as international residents once distributed and collected trade cards.    

If a trade card cannot be found in an album, dusty old chest, drawer, in an attic or basement, or even under a floorboard, a diverse quantity most certainly can be rediscovered at the Metropolitan Postcard Club’s postcard shows at Hotel New Yorker ballrooms or on eBay. They are now viewed as a wonderful means of celebrating culture, and depending on the quality of artistry, subject matter, and if they were produced in scarce quantities, some trade cards can sell for thousands of dollars. 

Back in 18th century England, tradesmen would advertise their goods through the use of more basic trade cards. In the mid-1870s, as the technology of lithography experienced a boom, the highly stylized color production of Victorian trade cards was mass-produced. Trade cards also assisted an increase of products at more economical rates, which were manufactured by large factories on the rise, as well as smaller producers with big dreams. The arrival of immigrants in America boosted the need as well. 

A trade card’s front was largely image-based, whereas the back was text-based. Some popular subjects included clothing companies, hats, medicine, instruments, coffee and tea, sewing, chocolates, stoves, and farming. Their feel ranged from graceful and elegant to humorous, especially in a Victorian-era sense. Sometimes an image was unrelated to the product intended for advertising. They were largely customized for specific products, but occasionally a stock card could be applied for nearly any product. Salesmen would travel and take orders from businesses, and within blank sections on either side, advertisers could incorporate their promotional copy.

At 3.5 by 4.5 inches, trade cards were larger than most business cards of today, but even larger cards could be found. Besides their typical rectangular shape, there were occasions when die-cut shapes and movable components were produced, increasing desirability for clients, as well as collectors from that period and today.  

Trade cards are also associated with notable figures, such as German immigrant Louis Prang of Boston, who is regarded as an early printer to utilize full color on a trade card. He exhibited at the Vienna International Exposition in 1873, and was a prize recipient for his completely colorized advertising trade card. Previously, trade cards were predominantly in black and white, followed by the addition of one color.

An 1800s method of printing trade cards in color is known as chromolithography, which makes use of a flat surface of stones as printing plates. Each color is printed independently, followed by superimposing colors to create a complete colored print. Each color utilizes a separate stone with an image illustrated on it, followed by the stones being individually inked. Each sheet of paper would run across the stones, capturing another color, according to Cornell University.  

Beginning in the early 20th century, advancements in printing contributed to large-scale color printing in magazines, and halftone newspaper advertisements also took wing. Color printing also became the norm, which eliminated the need for trade card production.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow by Email