This article discusses the history of advertising, especially focusing on trade cards and broadsides. It notes the products that were advertised and the images used, and describes some of the well-known lithographers. It originally appeared in the June 1942 issue of American Collector magazine, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antique collectors and dealers.
American advertising has always told a rousing story. What people had and what they could acquire. From the first issue of the Boston News Letter to 1942, this advertising has been an accurate, contemporary record. Type and pictures consummated merchandising arguments. Our newspaper advertising has been carefully culled and books of quotations have resulted. But the trade cards, the direct mail and notice board advertising of their time, have largely been ignored by antiquarians.
Coveted more and more by collectors, the trade card and broadside are the hearty byproduct of our social and economic patterns. Through these commercial forms may be traced revolutionary advances in printing, little known and seldom considered.
Probably the most estimable collection in existence is that of Bella C. Landauer at the New York Historical Society. Here advertising attains the estate of Americana. Emphasis is on the trade card, defined by Mrs. Landauer for “antiquarian parlance” as something more than a small piece of pasteboard, “printed notice of goods for sale,” without positive definition as to size or weight of paper. Each bears the name and location of the advertiser and his trade and may be with or without a picture.
Then, as now, the latter often had no connection with the goods for sale. Such pictures ranged in artistic quality from excellent and stirring to slipshod and ugly, depending on the decade and level of taste. In common with modern times, the past leaned heavily for its effects on patriotism, humor, sentiment, and adventure.
The earliest American trade card in the collection is one of the Colonial period, a copperplate engraving of about 1730. It was printed about half a century after presses had been banned in New York City. Most cards of the colonial, revolutionary and federal years were printed from engraved copperplates. A few were woodcuts. Color, when used at all, was tinted by hand.
Among the accomplished artisans who executed cards were Paul Revere, James Smither and Alexander Lawson. Revere printed a card that advertised cannon among his wares, not to mention bells, in the same year as his midnight ride. After 1800, and a few years before but usually as bookplate engravers, appear the names of James Akin, Joseph Callendar, Francis Shallus, Joseph Yeager, the Mavericks and William Rollinson.
The Mavericks, Peter, Samuel and Andrew, were at the height of their sometimes independent activity in lower New York when gas lamps began to be used in that section. They were the sons of Peter Rushton Maverick, also an engraver, who died in 1811. In 1818 Samuel advertised that he would print “500 cards of address for seven and a half dollars.” Andrew was at one time a partner of Cornelius Tiebout, two rare examples of whose cards may be seen in the Landauer Collection.
Then there was the Peter Maverick, not related to the others, but likewise an engraver and printer of trade cards who helped found the National Academy of Design. Although the names of some of these men did not disappear until 1850, the main body of their work was done in the mood and technique of the previous century and borrowed tradition. None tried lithography until their careers were very well along.
The 1820’s, a decade of striking transition, departed perceptibly from federal restraint in the direction of a vigorous and intensely American expression. The depression that followed the Treaty of Ghent was now past. Incipient tradesmen and new consumers were arriving in numbers from abroad. The Erie Canal was opened. The first railroad, drawn by horses, made a short run with a load of rock at Quincy, Massachusetts.
The first steam fire engine rolled out behind a team in Philadelphia. Commercial printing also made its next advance.
In 1822 Daniel Treadwell, also of Boston, was the first to operate a “bed and platen” press by power. It proved ideal for the printing of trade cards. However, its sole advantages were facility and quantity of production. Quality had, by this time, assumed definitely secondary importance. The aim of commercial printing was to move apace with the new era of industrial production, when an affluent banking, manufacturing, and merchandising class was arising.
The delicately colored card printed by the Pendletons, John and William S., then of Boston, at various times of Philadelphia and New York, is exceptionally rare (Illustration I). For theirs, begun in 1824, was the first American lithography establishment in a strictly commercial sense. The Pendletons engaged a Frenchman named Dubois, who may have been the first real lithographic pressman in America.
John Pendleton, whose own career was fostered by John Doggett of Boston, was a kind of impresario of commercial lithography. To him were apprenticed numerous printers who later went into the business on their own. Whether the Pendleton cards were drawn by foreign artists only, in these early years, had not been determined.
The card advertising the services of a music binder (Illustration II) is also a rare one. It was printed by one of New York City’s earliest lithographers, Michael Williams, about whom little is known beyond a few surviving examples of work, all of them excellent. His business addresses, listed in the city directories, make it possible to assign his card to 1828-29. The first listing describes him as a “lythographist,” and a slightly later one as “lythographer,” indicating that both title and process were a trifle unfamiliar.
The card of the paper company, “Platner and Smith, Lee, Massachusetts,” is outstanding (Illustration IV). The industry having been founded there in 1806, Lee was one of the earliest and for some years the largest paper manufacturing center in the country. Platner and Smith were among the first to open a mill. Their card is listed neither in Currier & Ives, A Manual for Collectors, published in 1931 by Jane Cooper Bland, nor in the Harry T. Peters books on American Lithography. It was printed by Nathaniel Currier between the years 1835 and 1856, before his long association with J. M. Ives. Currier had previously served in the Pendletons’ shop as their first apprentice. He, in turn with his partner Ives, apprenticed a good many printers who were to come into independent prominence.
John Bufford was one of these. He printed hundreds, probably thousands, of trade cards, employing numerous artists, only a few of whose names have been determined. Of all the Currier apprentices, perhaps the most distinguished was Napoleon Sarony, artist and printer, who in 1846 became associated with H. B. Major. Later this firm was known as Sarony, Major &, Knapp, and by the 1870’s as Major and Knapp only. It contributed an avalanche of advertising prints, mostly superior in quality. After Nathaniel Currier entered into partnership with J. M. Ives in 1857, they printed countless trade cards and other advertising as well as their famous prints.
This prolific period of commercial lithography, America’s first, affords an overwhelming but attractive avenue of research, one of countless angles, still in the pioneer stages. More clues to the identity, training and personal history of the artists could through concerted activity be uncovered.
Occasionally, as in the case of the Rosenthals of Philadelphia, outstanding for having put chromolithography into practice in the 1880’s, or the printing of a single picture by means of several stones instead of one, artists and printer are all of the same family and known. The Rosenthals’ cards are included in the Landauer Collection, as are those of Duval and Prang, with whom for an interval one of them worked.
About 1830, S. P. Ruggles of Boston developed a treadle machine, ideal for the printing of such small jobbing work as trade cards and broadsides. This was timely. Henry Clay’s high protective tariff on importations was stirring in merchants and manufacturers the hope of an ever-growing domestic market. They resorted to the stimulus of advertising as never before. It was the time of the first McCormick reaper and the earliest sewing machine, both advertised pictorially for generations thereafter. As patents for more and more inventions were issued, advertising’s role was to needle competition.
Broadsides grew larger and ever more lively. Including, as it did, a complete outfit for the rush of the “forty-niners,” John Moore’s California Goldwashers notice (Illustration V) left little to the imagination. It was printed when mile-long caravans of wagons were moving from East to West, and clipper ships crowded with fortune-seekers were sailing around the Horn.
Wood engraving of this type was used, long before lithography, in every corner of the world and was popular not only for advertising but for many kinds of illustration. One of its earliest 19th Century exponents was Abel Bowen, who revived the art in Boston in 1805. Samuel S. Kilburn, Jr., and R. P. Mallory, who had studied wood engraving under Bowen in the 1830s, were associated in Boston from 1852 until 1865. Their broadside for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” handsomely colored and printed a year or less after the classic was published, must have been one of their pioneer offerings, for the book had reached a sale of 295,000 copies in 1853, a figure somewhat in excess of that given in the advertisement.
This item has a rare fascination, for it is exactly like the vignette by Billings on the title page of the rare first edition. Whether Billings drew the picture for the broadside remains a question. The vogues of fiction were often reflected. Trade card advertisers borrowed familiar characters of popular fiction such as Gulliver and Moby Dick. The small Kate Greenaway figures which influenced American children’s dress for at least a generation appear over and over in cards of the 1870’s and 1880’s.
Another example of wood engraving, crude but interesting for its typical “ages of man” composition then the rage, is the one printed by Baker Taylor of Albany for “Dr. Parmenter’s Magnetic Oil” (Illustration VI). Baker Taylor, between 1855 and 1860, was listed in the Albany Citizens’ Directory now as “job printer,” again as a “wood engraver.” Considering the turbulence of the times, “Dr. Parmenter” needed to exaggerate to gain the people’s attention. For these were the years of the first Atlantic cable, of Lincoln’s stirring debate with Stephen Douglas, and the discovery of silver in Nevada.
Those who would date the broadside 1859, and they are free to do so, choose the year when John Brown seized the government arsenal and got himself hanged for it. Obviously, advertising, in the midst of such events, had to be dramatic. The services of the Dr. Parmenters in the land must, indeed, have been welcome for worse or better. Up to 1870, breakfast usually consisted of mush, beef, potatoes, breads, eggs, cheese, pie and coffee. Remedies of enormous variety, for animals as well as men, were offered for sale and lauded unabashedly by the trade card. Medical schools came late. Patent medicines such as snake oil, “electric” dosages, wart removers and worm cures rivalled those of our bromide age.
The billiard manufacturer’s offering (Illustration III), printed by Henry Seibert, shows what consumers of the time, 1867 or so, considered quaint and amusing. Moreover, it bears the artist’s initials, not identified. Who can say whether the picture is a copy of some late 18th Century cartoon, American or English? Are the initials those of the copy or the hypothetical original? Such examples point to the importance of the 19th Century “copy,” often as provocative as the pictures. Like the illustrations, the “copy” was not invariably related to the product that it praised. Often its aim was to win the consumers’ goodwill merely by diverting him, now with a poem, now with some mildly moralizing whimsy.
By means of cards and broadsides the news got around. Itinerant photographers, like the limners before them, advised communities of their coming by such announcements:
“NEW PICTURE GALLERY: Edwin E. Austin would respectfully announce to the citizens of this place and vicinity that he has taken rooms at where he is prepared to furnish Correct Likenesses on short notice. The leading styles of Pictures — Photographs, will be specially attended to, while the AMBROTYPE and MELAINOTYPE will be furnished in all weathers. Pictures set in lockets, pins or rings, and all work will be warranted durable and satisfactory. ”
These photographers of the forties and fifties, decades when patents had leaped in number from 6,500 to 28,000, found newly rich merchants eager to pose with their families as successful and, if possible, aristocratic citizens. Mrs. Landauer has found some of her cards in the linings of daguerreotype cases.
The trade card embossed by W. Eaves of New York in 1857 for a Charleston undertaker is one of several on this unpopular subject. Mrs. Landauer has lately published a booklet on embossed cards, a type used extensively in past advertising.
As for the card printed between 1862 and 1864 by Francis Ratellier dealing with tobacco, this vast source of income had been amply advertised before these dates. For several generations, here and abroad, the twofold aim of tobacco advertising has been painless instruction. Vest pocket nature studies, cards dedicated to flags and uniforms of all nations, famous ships, lighthouses and sea captains, heroes and idols of the matinee have been enclosed. Even today a well-known brand of English cigarette provides cards on fire prevention and other hints for war time.
Hardware has been the most advertised of all. Considering the swiftness of the country’s westward expansion and its ever-increasing population, always an enterprising one, this is hardly surprising. Other articles “immortalized” in track cards and broadsides are building materials, clothing, insurance, foods and a staggering variety of machinery. As for foods, when in the seventies and eighties packaged cereals first besieged the market, a flood of trade cards accompanied them.
The least advertised service was that of the lowly scavenger, the Landauer Collection, having but one trade card. Here is a broadside that gives a grim glimpse of ante-bellum days:
“RAFFLE: Mr. Joseph Jennings respectfully informs his friends and the public that, at the request of many acquaintances, he has been induced to purchase from Mr. Osborne, of Missouri, the celebrated DARK BAY HORSE, “STAR,” Aged five years, square trotter warranted sound; with a new light Trotting Buggy and Harness.
“Also, the dark stout MULATTO GIRL, “SARAH,” Aged about twenty years, general house servant, valued at nine hundred dollars, and guaranteed, and WILL BE RAFFLED FOR At 4 o’clock P. M. February First, at the selection hotel of the subscribers. The above is as represented, and those persons who may wish to engage in the usual practice of raffling, will, I assure them, be perfectly satisfied with their destiny in this affair.
“The whole is valued at its just worth, fifteen hundred dollars; fifteen hundred CHANCES AT ONE DOLLAR EACH. The Raffle will be conducted by gentlemen selected by the interested subscribers present. Five nights will be allowed to complete the Raffle. Both of the Above Described Can Be Seen At My Store, No. 78 Common Street, second door from Camp, at from 9 o’clock A. M. to 2 P. M.
“Highest throw to take the first choice; the lowest throw the remaining prize, and the fortunate winners will pay twenty dollars each for the refreshments furnished on the occasion.
“N. B. No chances recognized unless paid for previous to the commencement. JOSEPH JENNINGS. ”
The angles of transportation, starting let us say with the thirties, when river travel still boasted a tonnage greater than that of the American and British seaboards put together, are among the most engrossing.
Not only for the study of advertising, but as an American design archive, the Landauer Collection possesses extraordinary interest. Clothing and costume accessories, jewelry, cabinetmaking, silver-plating, iron manufactures, pottery and glass, all these may be traced back a century and further.
After the Civil War and the Reconstruction, the national taste declined. Debased gothic and renaissance architecture seasoned with the vagaries of Eastlake is reflected in the cards, along with the “Turkish corner” and other aberrations. No trend, however ugly, escaped them. Yet a gauche charm pervades these survivals, and humor and high spirits help to offset their sins. In ’79 not only Gilbert and Sullivan, but also the bustle came in, and the trade cards that vaunt them are novel and amusing.
Collectors can often date cards and broadsides by consulting Peters’ notable contribution, “America on Stone,” which lists most 19th Century American lithographers. Copper-plate printers and engravers may be found in the checklists of Fielding and Stauffer, and also in a register recently published by the New York Public Library.
The unlovely, ironical advertisement of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad was printed in 1876, only six years after its first seventy-five miles of track were laid. In that year when the company was promoting the sale of 2,500,000 acres of land on eleven years’ credit, Kansas was rife with Indian wars and uprisings. Only the most intrepid pioneers responded to the challenge. Much of the “rich” valley of “Southwestern Kansas” has, in our day, come to be known as “the dust bowl.” By such coincidence of fact does the study of American advertising take on a deep and romantic interest.
This article originally appeared in American Collector magazine, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antique collectors and dealers.