Boston Public Library > Collections > Library Collections

Color lithographed Victorian-era trade cards were a key late 19th century advertising vehicle for national manufacturers and local businesses. These miniature posters, about the size of a postcard, were handed out as souvenirs at major expositions during the late Victorian period. They were distributed at stores, placed on sales counters free for the taking, and passed out by “drummers” who walked the streets looking for customers.

The Print Department of the Boston Public Library is home to almost 4,000 of these Victorian advertising trade cards.

The cards in our collection advertise medicines, clothes and shoes, foods, cosmetics and perfumes, farm equipment, household appliances, and cooking products. Several items feature advertisements for Boston businesses as well as products still being manufactured, such as Quaker Oats and Heinz Ketchup.

The cards provide a glimpse into the everyday lives of the Victorian American, and they suggest the values, dreams, and political agendas of America’s past. The vast majority of the cards are whimsical, amusing, colorful and great examples of graphic art design.

For more information please contact:
Print Department
McKim Building, 3rd Floor
Boston Public Library
700 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02116
617-859-2280 or 617-536-5400
www.bpl.org/research/print/index.htm

Baking Trade Cards

Baking Trade Cards

221 photos

Food Trade Cards

Food Trade Cards

342 photos

Meat Trade Cards

Meat Trade Cards

240 photos

Medical Trade Cards

Medical Trade Cards

653 photos

Soap Trade Cards

Soap Trade Cards

606 photos

Special Trade Cards

Special Trade Cards

278 photos

Stock Trade Cards

Stock Trade Cards

1,174 photos

Stove Trade Cards

Stove Trade Cards

149 photos

Theater Trade Cards

Theater Trade Cards

200 photos

Thread Trade Cards

Thread Trade Cards

639 photos