Stock Cards and Advertising Cards

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Stock card for T.H. Klages, watchmaker and jeweler. Courtesy of the Hennepin County Library via Minnesota Digital Library.

The production and prevalence color trade cards of the nineteenth century gave rise to a phenomenon called the “card craze,” which began in the 1870s and continued into the early twentieth century. This popular pastime inspired Americans to collect and display advertising promotions. Trade cards promoted a large range of products from household goods, soaps, flower and vegetable seeds, to tobacco and patent medicines. Many of these cards were collected, traded, and pasted into scrapbooks.

Color card advertisements typically took one of two forms: stock cards or advertising cards. A “stock card” was a pre-printed card that often featured flowers, landscape scenes, or comic images. These cards were then imprinted at a later date with an individual retail merchant’s name and address. Frequently the advertising image bore little or no relationship to the product being sold. As a result, patent medicine stock cards could feature images of kittens, babies, and floral arrangements. Also in common production were “advertising cards.” Advertising cards were printed for a single, specific product.