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Nineteenth Century Businesses Distributed Trade Cards

In nineteenth century America the trade card served as a business card for both the company and its product.

A salesman would, for example, leave a trade card with a potential customer as a reminder of the product, illustrated on the card in the latest color art form called chromolithography.

The seed companies and nurseries did not hesitate to spread news of their garden products through such trade cards.

In her book  The Adman in the Parlor: Magazines and the Gendering of Consumer Culture, 1880s to 1910s  cultural historian Ellen Gruber Garvey wrote: “Beginning in the 1880s, trade cards dominated advertising for national distributed products, until they were largely supplanted by national magazine advertising during the 1890s.”

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in 1898 about the popular ‘Crimson Rambler’ rose. He said, “This wonderful climbing rose is now so well known that we feel it unnecessary to comment particularly upon it. Everyone who saw a plant of it in bloom this year will not feel satisfied until he possesses one or more plants of it.”

The ‘Crimson Rambler’ rose appeared in almost every garden catalog as well as on a trade card.

This trade card appeared in 1898.
This trade card appeared in 1898.

The Charlton Nursery from Rochester [left] used a trade card in 1898 to promote this rose.

Gruber Garvey wrote: “Manufacturers had put colorful advertising trade cards into the hands of thousands but nationally circulated magazines were a more efficient tool.”

By the 1890s national magazine advertising had outpaced the effectiveness of the trade card, but at one time these small cards proved to be popular both for businesses and customers around the country.

Some people even turned to collecting them as a form of amusement.



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