the opening of the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial, printed
ephemera met color lithography head on. Until then, color
was used sparingly in trade card production. Centennial
Exhibitors put thousands of these bright little pasteboard
salesmen into the hands of a product hungry public. Grocers
handed them out for every imaginable product, from soap to
soup! In some cases cards were put right into packaging.
They set off a collecting craze and people saved the cards
with a passion right into the 1890s. Many an evening was
spent pasting them into ornately covered scrapbooks. Wise
"admen" of the era knew that a product or service would
seldom be forgotten once a collection was
Advertising became a potent
selling tool. And would a big ad agency be far behind? The
19th century was a time of invention and innovation. New
products were introduced daily, with the cards cleverly
reflecting life in America. If it was in vogue, chances were
it would be touted on a trade card!
75 Years Later
In New York City during the 1950s, "thrift shops" abounded.
They were a cross between antique shops and "early attic."
You never knew what you might find! On the way to school one
morning, a trade card scrapbook in a thrift shop window
stopped me cold. I went in and thumbed through the book, and
was completely overwhelmed by the wonderful color,
typography and design of the cards. It was my first
purchase! The book was chock full of great material. I
quickly discovered that soaking the cards out of the
scrapbooks was an art unto itself as wallpaper paste and
other strange glues were used in the 1880s. However, the
many tedious hours of soaking was worth the time and effort
expended. A few years later I was lucky to find a couple of
Clipper Ship cards which are now quite rare. I wish I hadn't
traded them away.
In my early collecting years, I went through the many
books of trade cards in the Bella Landauer Collection at the
New York Historical Society on Central Park West in New York
City. A pioneer in the field, Mrs Landauer was curator of
her collection at the museum. She was a very gracious lady,
always happy to impart a wealth of trade card knowledge to a
novice collector like myself. I learned a lot about the
cards and printers from her. I consider myself fortunate to
have located a copy of her out-of-print book, Early
American Trade Cards, published in 1927 by Wm. Edward
Rudge Press, NY.
Prior to the 1960s, serious collectors of trade cards
were few, and dealers virtually non-existent. Cards were
relegated to shoe boxes under tables at antique show booths.
Today the picture has changed and the future is bright.
Finally the trade card has gained the respect that it
rightfully deserves. These days there are specialized
auctions and conventions, and thousands of avid collectors
attend the many ephemera shows held throughout the
Shown to the left and right
are thumbnail views of some of my favorites among the cards
I've been fortunate enough to find. Click on a card to see
an enlarged view.
This article was
excerpted with permission of the author,
Copyright © Collectors' Eye,