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19th Century Advertising Trade Cards: The Basics

Part 1: An Introductory Guide to
Collecting Advertising Trade Cards
an edited and updated version of the original publication
the (no longer active) Trade Card Collector's Association.
Reproduced with permission

See also:  "What Are Victorian Trade Cards?" by Dave Cheadle
"What are Victorian Trade Cards" by Pamela Wiggins

On the reverse of the following Victorian Easter Greeting distributed by the makers of Lion Coffee, Wilson Spice Co., appeared a contemporary explanation of the purposes and value of trade cards:

Decorate Your Homes With Handsome Picture Cards

There is nothing that tends more to beautify the home than the tasty arrangement of handsome Picture Cards upon the walls, mantels, doors, etc.  The Woolson Spice Co., manufacturers of Lion Coffee, have given this matter much attention and are constantly arranging for placing in the hands of consumers of Lion Coffee millions of beautiful Picture Cards. This we do as a compliment to our legion of friends and patrons over the country and we know our efforts are appreciated and the cards highly prized. 

We place in each one-pound package of Lion Coffee one Picture Card and, being our own special designs, they are not to be procured except through this medium. To prevent duplication we have hundreds of designs which we are constantly adding to, and in this way the consumer secures in a short time by the steady use of Lion Coffee, a splendid variety of beautiful and artistic cards. 

We are pioneers in the placing of Picture Cards in Package Coffee, having originated the idea and first used it. Since then we have had many imitators among the Coffee Manufacturers. The Lion Coffee Cards, however, continue to please the people and put to shame the efforts of all competitors. 

Buy Lion Coffee, secure these cards, besides getting the best Coffee sold on the Market. Woolson Spice Co., Manufacturers, Toledo Ohio.
In 2019, many trade card scrapbooks have been recycled or soaked to remove the individual cards. These circumstances have made intact scrapbooks, especially those with a known family history like the Earl J. Arnold Advertising Trade Card Collection, much more valuable. (Sample Collection slideshow here.)


For awhile, Earl J. Arnold was one of the "drummers" who handed out Victorian trade cards at local events. According to an article about the Earl J. Arnold Advertising Card Collection appearing in the Summer 1965 issue of Food Marketing in New England (First National Stores, v. 26 no. 1 p. 22):


The Advertising Trade Card is no longer published and the Trade Card Collector's Association has disbanded. A selection of back issues may be obtained here at Dave Cheadle's store, however. 

In 2019, one of the best sources for advertising cards, both rare and common is eBay. A recent search for "victorian trade cards" resulted in over 70,000 hits!
Watch your options carefully. Notice the difference between a "bid" or auction item and one with a fixed price. Shipping prices for some items can be inflated.
Click the images below to visit the sites:
Topics, Products, News, Trending on eBay, etc.
Illustrated history
stock vs. custom, additional resources
a very fun, fishy story!
international overview and illustrated discussion
cards as historical architectural resources
Assorted articles about trade cards...
just the facts, lots of them!