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Victorian Trade Cards with a Textile Theme



Philadelphia & Environs
Textiles and Victorian Trade Card

Trade Cards have existed since the early 17th century as paper handouts with information on the location and wares of the early shopkeeper. Eventually during the 18th and in the beginning of the 19th century this advertising material started to appear in the format of a small palm size paper card. Until this time the trade card was usually printed from a copper engraving, generally incorporating the sign of the proprietor's trade and/or premise.

In 1840 the chromolithographic printing process was developed in Germany. This process was eventually adopted by a number of printers in America by the 1860s and 1870s. With the adoption of this printing technology, retail businesses soon realized the appeal of printing multi-color trade cards. The public quickly became captivated by these colorful give-aways. By the 1880s, many individuals were collecting these cards and saving them in scrapbooks. The printers of these cards supported this fascination by producing cards in sets; the individual customer was required to keep coming back to the shop to acquire a complete set. This mania for collecting trade cards begins to die off around 1900 with the change in postal regulations. At this time the rates for magazines decrease and many businesses turn to this medium for advertising their product.

During the height of popularity for the chromolithographic trade card, from 1880-1900, popular culture was an inspiration for many of the designs. This interest in popular images coupled with the wide range of different commercial products and establishments produced a large variety of card images. During this time, industries related to apparel where a major source of interest to the public. The sewing machine, which had been invented in 1840, was generally the most important purchase for most households. Of course, the sewing of clothes also required thread, for hand use and by the sewing machine. Along with the sewing machine, the development of chemical dyes in the 1850s increased the possibility of home dyeing. These home interests were paralleled by changes in retail trade with the advent of large department stores in the 1880s. All this industries produced trade cards.

The trade card collection found in the Special Collections department of the Paul J Gutman Library focuses on presenting an overview of the use of these Victorian trade cards in advertising the textile industry in America. Our definition of "textiles" is all encompassing. All aspects of the commercial trade that delt with "fiber"; their manipulation and sale as an end product are included in the collection.


Cheadle, Dave VICTORIAN TRADE CARDS : Historical Reference & Value Guide. Paducah, KY : Collector Books, 1996, 223 pages.

EARLY AMERICAN TRADE CARDS : From the Collections of Bella C. Landauer.NY : William Edwin Rudge, 1927, 25 pages, xliv leaves of plates.

Thimble Collectors International, 1988, 28 pages.

Columbia : University of Missouri Press, 1987, 112 pages.

Rickards, Maurice COLLECTING PRINTED EPHEMERA. NY : Abbeville Press, 1988, 224 pages.

Rickards, Maurice ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EPHEMERA. NY : Routledge, 2000, 402 pages.

Rimmer, Robert H. FROM PAUL REVERE TO PALADIN : an Informal History of Business Cards. Housatonic, MA : Rising Paper Company, 1962, 24 pages.