Great Shapes!
Collecting Die Cut Trade Cards

By Burt Purmell

Who first produced the die cut cards we've all become familiar with? How were they made? In researching the subject, conclusive evidence seems to be sparse. We do know that the 1880s and 90s were the heyday of these wonderful pieces of advertising ephemera.

Usually a lithographer or printer would place his name and city in the corner of a trade card. This step was rarely taken with a die cut. Every area of the card seemed to be centered on the shape and design of the piece.

This must be why we know so little about the makers. However, Donaldson Brothers, Five Points, NY stands out as one of if not the most prolific maker. Among Donaldson's many diecuts are Jackson's Best Tobacco (round), Best and Co. (drum shaped), Sapolio (watermelon shape), Hires Root Beer (Hires Boy) - all shown in Plate 1.

The R.H. Macy department store die cut fanshown in Plate 2 is a 1902 product of Sackett & Wilhelm, NY a well known trade card printer.

Liebler & Maas, NY did the Palest Brewery (bottle shaped card) shown in Plate 3. And by the way, this is the only card I've ever seen by that maker.

As to the missing link in the saga! This might easily have been the scenario: A lithographer or printer while trimming sheets of trade cards with straight blades might well have thought, "What if I fashioned blades like these into a shape...a heart, a fish, a glove, shoe or whatever. Then cut out the shapes the way a baker stamps out a gingerbread man"? Was this the way the die cut trade card was conceived?

Who knows, it's an interesting thought to ponder until more definitive information comes to light. As die cuts progressed, they became more complex in nature as die technology became more advanced.

Die cuts are a fascinating area in trade card collecting. Over the years I've come across almost everything from bells to bicycles, magnets, horseshoes, buildings, product packaging, whales, butterflies, hats and fish and of course the famed Heinz Pickle series. All wonderful shapes touting numerous products and services. Take a look at Plate 4, Plate 5, Plate 6 and Plate 7 for some more examples of the cards I've been able to find.

I'm sure you'll agree, these die cut trade cards are great fun!


The Trade Card Place