Introduction

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An example of a trade card. Text reads: “A delicate compliment - Lady: ‘Would you recommend Day & Martin's Blacking?’ Shopwoman: ‘Certainly, madam. Nothing is so pleasing to the eye. You have only to look at your boot and you will always see your face in it.’ Courtesy of Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

Prior to industrialization, hand-crafted shoes were more commonly made with a specific buyer in mind. With the onset of the nineteenth century, factories produced more shoes than there were designated purchasers. As such, a separate marketing and sales facet emerged from the shoemaking industry, targeting consumers for these new products. The sheer number of factories in Massachusetts created competition between businesses, with producers vying for the consumer’s eye and wallet.

In the Victorian era, “trade cards”advertising handouts bearing anything from a shoe company’s contact information to its latest style to a catchy jokewere distributed by businesses to their potential clients. Appropriately named, these cards were both representative of a “trade” and actively “traded” in social circles, further distributing a business’ outreach.

In the early twentieth century, catalogs became popular forms of advertising with their colorful visual narratives. Some companies such as Stetson even employed pontoons and musical bands to promote their shoe lines.