Throwback Thursday: Trade Cards

Willennar Genealogy Center’s collection is full of Throwback Thursday potential, so let’s get our #TBT on!

In one of our earliest Throwback Thursday posts, I wrote about unique advertisements in the John Martin Smith Collection, one of which was a Victorian trade card for Acorn Stoves and Ranges. The card was made of heavy card stock cut in the shape of an acorn; an illustration in the center of the card depicted a young girl holding a doll.Acorn Stoves and Ranges

Trade cards like this were used by businesses from the late 1800s up through the turn of the century to promote their various goods and services. Some cards were custom-ordered designs made for specific companies, while others were mass-produced with blank backs which businesses could use to print their own information. The cards were then distributed by businesses; customers often received a trade card when they made a purchase.

Though usually rectangular, trade cards could come in a variety of shapes, and featured illustrations which often had nothing to do with the product they were advertising (though that was not always the case). Because of their illustrations, which ranged from beautiful and thoughtful to comic and whimsical, Victorian trade cards were very popular to collect. Some Victorians kept scrapbooks full of their collections.

We actually have a number of these trade cards in the John Martin Smith Collection; below is a small sampling of some of the pieces in the collection, which includes trade cards from Auburn, Butler, Waterloo, Corunna, and Spencerville.

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Want to see more local history? Feel free to search our online photo database, or head on over to the Genealogy Center’s official Facebook page.

About Chelsea

I've been working at Willennar Genealogy Center for over two years now, and I've loved every minute of getting to learn more about the stories of DeKalb County and the surrounding area. I'm interested in all kinds of history, but I'm especially fond of the early film industry, old letters and journals, the DeKalb County Fair, and the Interurban line.
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