Durable, Colorful Victorian Trade Cards

Victorian Trade Cards are an interesting type of ephemera to collect, as companies in the late 1870s to early 1900s distributed these cards as a form of advertising. So just about any consumer product of the Victorian era can be found promoted on a trade card.

The fronts of these cards were humorous, decorative or offered some type of political commentary. If printed on two sides, the reverse featured product advertising. People of the late 1800s enjoyed collecting these cards, gluing them into albums along with other period ephemera, such as calling cards.

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American Machine Company Trade Card,
advertising their Iron & Trivet.

Trade Card for the Ideal Sad Iron with
a removable wooden handle.

Most cards were composed of a combination of paper pulp and rag—similar to paper money—making them extremely durable. Because of this, cards can be carefully soaked from the album pages and pressed, dried and redistributed for sale. Look carefully at any card you are considering buying. You may find evidence of discoloration on the reverse where the card was mounted in an album.

Condition is all-important in valuation of these cards. Various defects, which will lower their value, are: stains, tears, creases, chips, fading, scrapes or scuffing. The ultimate card for a collection is one in Very Fine or Mint condition, showing none of the defects mentioned. Interestingly, since trade cards with color images were the most popular with the Victorian public, those printed with black and white images are scarce and often much more valuable than their colorful cousins.

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 A typical Mrs. Potts Trade Card,
advertising her line of irons.
 Reverse of the Mrs. Potts Sad Iron card,
typical of the company advertising.

Depending upon your field of interest, you’ll find cards that enhance your collection. As a trivet and iron collector, I naturally gravitate toward cards that advertise laundry-day products. There were cards advertising irons, stoves, washers, wringers, laundry detergents and starches. Perhaps the most collectible of this genre are the Mrs. Potts Sad Iron cards, which are becoming harder and harder to find. Cards in fine condition sell today in the $30 to $60-plus range.

Interested in learning more? A wonderful reference is the “Victorian Trade Cards: Historical Reference & Value Guide” by Dave Cheadle.

Lynn Rosack is a Worthologist who specializes in trivets and kitchenalia

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