Trade Cards, Take Two

I’ve made a few additions to my trade card collection over the summer, and found some nice early examples in various archives.  So it seemed like time for another post, as my last one on these early business cards was months ago.  So many of these cards were produced in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that you can easily get lost in a sea of paper if you are thinking about starting a collection, so it’s best to narrow down your interests–by location, businesses, images, era, etc..I am always on the lookout for Salem cards, of course, as well as drums, horseshoes, elephants and anything to do with upholstery and upholsterers.

I found a few cards for Frank Cousins, my favorite turn-of-the-century Salem entrepreneur/photographer, this summer, including drum and horseshoe images.  Very exciting.  These both date from the 1890s; I particularly like the Who is Frank Cousins? tagline–it seems quite modern.

Some more Salem items.  Early trade cards are impossible to find (they are ephemeral after all) so the best place to look for them is in the collections of historical museums and libraries.  The two cards below, from the first decade of the nineteenth century, represent two businesses that were flourishing in Salem’s golden age of prosperity. As you can see the first card (from Mystic Seaport) is showing its age, while that of Jabez Baldwin, a prosperous silversmith and clockmaker (from the American Antiquarian Society), still looks pretty good.

Much more attainable cards include these two colored cards from the end of the nineteenth century.  I have no idea why strange-looking–even scary–clowns were good for business but they pop up quite often on trade cards.  These are not images I collect but I can’t seem to avoid them.

I can find lots of clowns, but very few upholstery trade cards, which is what I’m really looking for.  I love this great eighteenth-century example from the Victoria & Albert Museum:  what a great image and historical source.  A century before photography, it’s an (albeit idealistic) window into Christopher Gibson’s London upholstery shop, with both customers and craftsmen present.  Below the Gibson card  is a much less interesting one for the Boston upholsterers Copp & Pear from the later nineteenth century and the collection of the American Antiquarian Society.  No Salem upholsterers yet.

There’s another clown in this last card, but at least he is accompanied by two elephants!  There’s quite a few trade cards with elephant images (owing to the popularity of Jumbo, I think), but like this one, they’re all for national businesses and brands.  I’d really like to find a local, less-standardized example.

7 responses to “Trade Cards, Take Two

  • markd60

    I wonder if peoples old business cards will be collectors items in a hundred years?

    • Nelson Dionne

      I “gather” Salem business cards; as my cards empty out of their box, i replace them with Salem cards. A small time capsule for the future collector. I do the same with Salem business #10 envelopes, advertising postcards, and tourist hand-outs too. My Salem trade .& match cover binders are 4″ & filled. See them in the Rotary Club’s 2011 calendar. I also have a few hundred 1840 – 1940 Salem business envelopes, too.( Postal history ) Nelson

  • Bernadette

    I love these trade cards, particularly the ‘Who Is Frank Cousins?’ card, the horseshoe one and the elephants card. What lovely things to collect!

  • ceciliag

    Oh those are great, i too have old cards but thoughtlessly really, i just find them and like them so I keep them I have not thought to manage them properly. I should do that. I loved that knock kneed clown! c

  • Nelson Dionne

    BTW, Frank Cousins was quite the photographer. Google his name & Salem & you should get the link to his work he did for he Detroit Publishing Co, circa 1910. It’s in a mid-western university library.

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