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Collecting Advertising Trade Cards

Trade cards are thought of as the forerunner of today’s business cards.

In the 1800's families often collected and pasted cards in a scrapbook. The cards were given away to promote businesses and products and acquired on shopping trips when a purchase was made. At food stores, many cards came packaged in tins of teas and coffees. As family members brought cards home they compared and categorized them and then went out to look for more! That was the beginning of trade card collecting.

Few cards are dated and very early examples have only writing without pictures. Some are with limited quantities printed and some were made 10,000 at a time. Very few trade cards date prior to 1810 and in the 1870's color cards were printed. The 1876 Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia, P.A. marked a critical part in the history of trade card collecting. People who attended the Exposition came home with free souvenir trade cards and the popularity of these cards became contagious. By the 1880's card collecting became a hobby. The years from 1880 until 1893 were prime for trade cards. Black and White cards are rare  because people didn't keep them, preferring color cards. Currier and Ives and Louis Prang were America's most famous lithographers and both companies printed many trade cards.

Cards were handed out to customers for free often given with a purchase. They were left on a counter to be picked up. They were wrapped in packages especially coffee and tea. They were passed out at fairs and expositions, sold by book stores to collectors who in their eagerness to acquire more cards were willing to pay for them.

Types of cards include private issue made especially for one company or store and Stock Cards where the same image was used but stores could stamp their advertisements on the front or the back of the card.

Popular categories of trade cards are:

Animals, Children, Clocks, Clothing, Comestics and Perfumes, Cowboys and Indians, Dental, Fairy Tales and Nursery Rhymes, Food & Grocery, Guns, Hair Products, Holidays and Santa Claus, Patent Medicines, Pianos, Root Beer, Sodas, & Water, Sewing Machines and Threads, Shoes, Soaps, Toys, Dolls, and Games, Whales and more.

Collectors are still passionate about cards and today there are specialized auctions and conventions and thousands who attend the many ephemera shows held throughout the country.