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Collecting 19th c. Vintage Antique Victorian Advertising Trade Cards

It is best to search for ancestors by entering one term in the search box below such as surname, city or town, county, state, or a keyword such as Civil War, trade card, daguerreotype, etc.

Will Kling Horse Advertising Trade Card 19th c. Syracuse NY
1870-80's Advertising Trade Card of Will Kling Store, East Syracuse, NYM.G.O. Co. (Merchant's Gargling Oil) sold by Will M. Kling, Choice Family Groceries in East Syracuse, N.Y. (Onondaga County). Manufactured in Lockport, New York, Niagara County. John Hodge, secretary.

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An Article on Victorian era Antique Advertising Trade Cards
by Debra Clifford, Ancestorville

....The 1876 Centennial World's Fair was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was an amazing event celebrating new patents, inventions, printing methods. It caused excitement 10 years after the dark Civil War period and reconstruction era in American history. Color printing was new and technically reaching new heights, and beautifully chromolithographed trade cards became a new genre of spreading the marketing word.

Incredulous claims were used in the effort to sell wares, quack medicine, homeopathics, patent medicines, stoves, farm equipment, soaps, machinery, fabrics, toys, games, seeds, foods, books, and products. Services such as lawyers, physicians, dentists, opticians, photographers, and optometrists were also in on the hoopla. You name it...all aspects of American products and service life were covered by the advent of the advertising trade card. It was a phenomena!

The marketing testimonial from the Gargling Oil card above reads "Merchant`s Gargling Oil is the standard liniment of the United States, and is good for Burns, Scalds, Rheumatism, Flesh Wounds, Sprains, Bruises, Lame Back, Hemorrhoids or Piles, Toothache, Sore Throat, Chillbains, Chapped Hands and many other diseases incident to man and beast." How's that for grandiose advertising? This product doubled as a veterinary and medical product, surely something you'd not find today.

Here at Ancestorville, we have over 2,000 Victorian era advertising related trade cards and related material to go up. You may buy the actual product, or a digital image. They range from the ornate chromolitho trade cards to simply typography in beautiful old printed script with no printed scenes, as evident in the business card seen below.

We have a special interest in finding material related to 19th c. women run businesses, which you will find doing a category search for "women" or "woman" in our search box. Here we find women photographers, millinery and sewing related businesses and their participation in the sewing trades. Women performers, such vaudevillie and opera singers were also famous in their own right, with their images suddenly being used for selling products. It was the dawn of the Advertising age in American history.

Trade cards offer an invaluable look at the genealogy of local family run businesses, town histories, trade and culture of the times, customs, graphics, marketing and overall advertising history. Each vintage piece offers an important clue as to surname, and lost family ties. We have had family members find that their ancestors were in the photography business, or grocers, dry goods store owners and etc. Some having had no idea of this business history in their family's past. With census records and town histories becoming more and more evident online each week, it's an exciting time to find out just what trades our ancestors embarked upon in the industrious post Civil War reconstruction boom of 19th c. America, and abroad.

Smith & Titus: 1890-1910 2 Worcester Attorneys, MA

Smith & Titus: 1890-1910 Business Card of 2 Worcester Attorneys, MA. 
Beautiful early American typography from Massachusetts.

Trade cards themes can be risque with those leaning more towards "men's" trades, some have maps with directions to the business location, puzzles, children, flowers, beautiful women, patriotic scenes with eagles; flags and historical items; novelty scenes and jokes, animals, lace and Victorian icons such as a gloved or laced hand with flowers, stone urns, Japanesque influences, ethnic racist scenes, western native American scenes, boats, clipper ships and nautical themes, birds in cages, and delicate "high class" Victorian era embellishments.

Some cards are exactly modeled after the Victorian calling card in small size and format, meant to be slipped in a calling card receiver and further the local business in social circles.

The trade card is directly related to the business card. It was most popular from the late 1870’s to 1900 in America, although it has roots back to the 1600's in Europe. Most of the cards at Ancestorville are American, and are circa 1880's-1900. We you will find everything from early plain typography cards, to intricate Victorian stone chromolithographic work.

The size of an advertising trade card is typically about 3 x 5 inches, although we have seen them in upwards of 8 x 10 inches in size. They are both horizontal and vertical in nature. They were collected by both the young and old, and glued into early Victorian scrapbooks, which became a hugely popular fad in America, England and Europe. It is for this reason that many show evidence of mucilage and animal glues on the reverse, although some were also mounted in scrap books with corner paper frames. As the advent of color printing gained favor, the cards become more and more sophisticated in all regards.

Advertising Trade Card for Morgan & Porter Bakers Grocers. South Bend, Indiana

c. 1880-90's Advertising Stock Trade Card for Morgan &
Porter Bakers and Grocers. South Bend, Indiana, is in Saint Joseph County (St. Joseph). This is an example of an advertising "stock card", with the family business name is printed in a specified blank area for printers.


Stock cards are more desirable by us, in that some printing companies specialized in producing these trade cards with an image on one side and a blank space for the business to add its own printed information. Therefore, a small store in Rutland, Vermont may be printed on a stock card for a national stove company. It is here that the genealogy aspect helps us in finding family names and census records in research related this 19th c. New England Vermont town.

The "trade" in trade card does not refer to trading of the cards, although they were highly collectible in their day, and followed the same line as gum and baseball cards. It refers to the line of business, as in the chosen "trade" of the bearer. Trade cards, manufactured by the tobacco companies, later depicted sports and baseball players, and became their own entity with less and less advertising as part of their original attraction. Early gum and baseball cards derive from this phenomena also.

Advertising Trade Card Lafar Hats Store Savannah, Georgia Chatham County

1880-90's Advertising Trade Card of La Far Hats & Furnishings, GA
Lafar Hats Store was at 23 Bull Street in Savannah, Georgia, Chatham County.

Overall, we see each printed trade card on our site as a historical piece of town and city history, and with the added benefit of a family run business surname attached! The ancestors who owned these businesses lay in graves across America, and await being found. At times we have found explicit genealogy info online from a business card, as in the the business card of Smith & Titus above. There is extensive historical biographical information on both of these attorneys, from Civil War military info to family ties, roots and children. May you find your lost family clues here. If not, we invite you to "adopt" a family business and do some online genealogy research on the area or name. We will happily add the info you may find to the listing. These spirits await being found by their 21st century familes and historian friends. Enjoy and good luck!

— Debra Clifford, Ancestorville

...and click here to view 1000's of antique ID'd family photos on Ancestorville.

debra clifford ancestorville Join ~debra on facebook at Ancestorville Genealogy on the topic of lost family antique items, early photographs, genealogy surnames and family history topics. Search our site for your lost family antique material by family surname, county, town, city and state.

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Posted by Debra Clifford on

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