I’ve posted on trade cards several times, and they remain a form of ephemera that I casually collect. It seems to me that these early business cards are among the least ephemeral of ephemera–so many survive. And most of them are the standardized children/animals/flowers variety. So I’m pretty picky: my collection is full of Salem items, cards with unusual shapes, cards that advertise Sarsaparilla (for some reason, a new interest of mine; when sold as a medicinal tonic at the end of the nineteenth century it contained something like 18% alcohol) and apothecaries in general, and those put out by the home furnishings trades. Occasionally odd images catch my fancy, and I don’t care what they are selling. I really prefer the earliest trade cards, issued in western Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but I could never afford them and most of them are in rare book libraries anyway. It’s been a while since I featured any trade cards, so I thought that I’d showcase my most recent finds.
First, some Salem cards. Frank Cousins was an amazing photographer/entrepreneur who did much to capture and sell Salem a century ago: the cards for his Essex Street shop, the Bee-Hive, were often issued in interesting shapes. I always go for any view of the wharves and great examples of typography, and I love the font on Mr. Goodwillie’s card. The last card, presenting a western image of Chinese workers, is extremely interesting: “others”, particularly Chinese, often appear on late nineteenth-century trade cards, and almost always in a stereotypical, racist and/or jingoistic way. I’m not sure what’s going on with this card, issued by a Salem pharmacist; most likely it is part of a series.
As you can see, A.A. Smith is offering “petroleum remedies”: even more unusual is the”magnetized food” on sale at a Brooklyn pharmacy. I’ve included the back of the card so you can see the pitch: using children to appeal to their mothers, obviously an age-old practice. And then there are two cards issued by the Charles I. Hood Company of Lowell, Massachusetts, the leading manufacturer of the equally healthy Sarsaparilla.
“Magnetized Food” trade card from the Library Company of Philadelphia Digital Exhibit: Nineteenth-Century Pharmacists’ Trade Cards from the William H. Helfand Collection.
I thought I was familiar with all the digital databases of works on paper but just recently I found the online collection of the Rothschild family’s Waddesdon Manor, which includes over 700 trade cards from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This is an amazing resource for all sorts of things. The Rothschilds were probably the greatest collectors of the nineteenth century, and I was surprised to see so many humble trade cards among their more luxurious acquisitions, but apparently Ferdinand von Rothschild, the builder of Waddesdon, was interested in every aspect of French life and culture in the eighteenth century. Here are three late-seventeenth-century cards from his collection, with which urban outfitters offered their services and wares: the first one is from a hat-maker, the second from a vestment-maker, and the last one from a furrier. Mere slips of paper that survived all these many years.