“Trade cards, “the granddaddy of today’s trading cards, were made in the 19th century from pieces of cardstock-like paper with printing on one or both sides.

The cards were essentially an early form of advertising for a business or trade — and while many times the product depicted was what was being advertised, as often as not, the real purpose of the picture on the card was to amuse people and to get some attention for a brand. In that sense, some of the weirder ones could almost be considered akin to viral posts of today: offbeat images that exist solely to build buzz.

Trade cards were very popular during the Victorian era, and commonly depicted a variety of items and scenes. For instance, one might have a drawing of a man on a camel, coupled with a tagline for stove polish; another could show a newlywed couple admiring their new hand-cranked laundry wringer; while a different type might have — yes — anthropomorphized veggies. Check out a few of them below!

Art cards from the 1800s - Woman's head on a cabbage dress body


People as vegetables: Man’s head on a carrot body

Trade cards with people as vegetables from the 1800s - Man's head on a carrot body


Man with a potato head

Trade cards with people as vegetables from the 1800s - Man with a potato head


People as vegetables: Woman’s head with a squash body

Art cards from the 1800s - Woman's head with a squash body


People as vegetables: Man’s head on a ear of corn

Trade cards with people as vegetables from the 1800s - Man's head on a ear of corn body


Victorian trade card with a man’s head on a sweet potato body

Trade cards with people as vegetables from the 1800s - Man's head on a sweet potato body


People as vegetables: Man’s head on a turnip body

Trade cards with people as vegetables from the 1800s - Man's head on a turnip body


Victorian trade cards with people as vegetables: Man’s head on an onion body

Victorian trade cards with people as vegetables from the 1800s - Man's head on an onion body


Antique trade cards with people as vegetables: A couple of carrots

A root vegetable couple - Victorian trade card from c1887


Bonus image of a man as a fruit: A human head on a watermelon

Art cards from the 1800s - Man's head on a watermelon


About this kind of art: Vintage trade cards offer a broad range (1975)

By Lita Solis-Cohen and Bob Schwabach, Knight Newspapers

Of all those specialized fields of collecting that require the nose of a bloodhound and the diligence of an ant, none offers a broader range than collecting old trading cards.

They were the prime advertising medium until the 1890s, when they were replaced by magazine advertising.

set-12-victorian-trade-cards-head

The earliest American trade cards are printed notices of goods for sale, sometimes with woodcut or copper engraved illustrations, and are almost impossible to find now. Some are large — some almost poster size — and if a print dealer comes across one engraved by James Smithers, Henry Dawkins or Nathaniel Hurd, he can quickly sell it to one of several institutions.

Lithographed trade cards of the second quarter of the nineteenth century are not much easier to come by. Large ones showing a factory or store or the products in rich colors bring several hundred dollars apiece. The most elaborate are lithographers’ own trade cards, made to show off their skill.

In 1876, thousands of trade cards were passed out at the Centennial in Philadelphia, and many people collected albums of them. Cheaper lithographic processes developed by then had made possible the production of stock cards with bouquets, animals and scenic views, all with a blank space for the merchant’s name.

The famous lithographers Currier & Ives turned out a couple hundred designs. In “The American Card Catalogue,” the standard guide in the field, 3-by-5-inch Currier Ives cards are listed at $5 to $8, a few rare ones at $20 (1960 prices).

Higher priced and prettier than Currier & Ives are the clipper ship trade cards advertising fast runs from New York and Boston to the California gold fields. A few rare ones advertise runs to Hawaii and Australia.

Nesbitt of New York was the principal printer of these, from 1850 to 1870. About 900 different cards featuring some 400 ships are known and sell for $75 to $300.


About this story

Source publication: Images Chromolithographed cards for Parker & Wood, 49 No. Market Street, Boston, Mass. (circa 1887). Imprint: Clay & Richmond, Buffalo, NY; Antique trade card article from the Des Moines Tribune (Des Moines, Iowa) - May 1, 1975

Filed under: 1880s, 1890s, 1970s, Culture & lifestyle, Drawings & illustrations, Ephemera, Food & drink, Vintage advertisements

Click for more on these topics: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.