Collecting Victorian Trade Cards

Glyn Farber

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Victorian Trade Cards are described as small cards, similar to postcards, that businesses would distribute to clients and potential customers.

Trade Cards were a powerful advertising medium and were an early example of the modern business card. They were issued by manufacturers of all kinds of products and were given away to potential customers. With the development of color printing trade cards began to be increasingly sophisticated in there designs. As the designs became more attractive and colorful, collecting Trade Cards became a popular hobby in the late 1800s and still is today.

Some Trade Cards, particularly those produced by tobacco companies featuring baseball players, later developed into Sports Card collectibles and lost their function as a business advertisement. Victorian Trade Cards first came into use at a time when a large number of new products were beginning to appear in all retail markets. They were the first type of advertising to be used when inexpensive color printing had been perfected but was not being used in other mediums of advertising. The Trade Card did more than just carry a commercial message. They gave a quick look of the good life, provided amusement, and advice. Some manufacturers put out a series of Trade Cards on a particular subject, hoping to induce collectors to keep returning to the store in order to obtain a complete set. Many collectors who saved Trade Cards would then acquire sets advertising particular products such as tobacco, patent medicines, glue and thread. Also popular are Trading Cards picturing subjects such fire engines, railroad trains and farm machinery.

Most Trade Cards were made of pasteboard, rectangle in shape, on which advertising and illustrations were printed. There are two other types, known to collectors as mechanical and die-cut. Examples of these two types are more desirable than any plain printed card. Mechanical Trade Cards have moving parts and their physical size affects value. Die-cut Trade Cards are usually cut to the shape of their illustrations.

Some collectors look for the work of certain highly regarded printers. Two examples are Currier and Ives and L. Prang & Co. Others look for Trade Cards from Fairs and Expositions such as the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

Glyn Farber has published a catalog of all known Hickey Brother Cigar Store Tokens and co-authored a book about Louisiana Trade Tokens. In addition he wrote several articles for The Token and Medal Society (TAMS) and The National Token Collectors Association (NTCA). Glyn has been a devoted collector of Louisiana Trade Tokens, Louisiana collectibles and Lake Charles, LA postcards for almost 40 years.

Find out more information about Victorian Trade Cards , Collectibles and Trade Tokens at his web sites and


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