Urban Archeologist: Ad Cards to Your Collection

In no time at all you can own a slice of local history.

Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story. He is the author of this post.

I’ll never get tired of advertising cards. If you’ve never held one they are like holding a thin slice of history. They were a gift, a premium, sometimes left on a counter or near the cash register as token of appreciation for patronage.

Why so precious, these cards that were just advertisements? In the mid to late 19th century they were likely as fascinating as the screens on the first smart phones. Whether you felt you wanted one or not, color printing was new and they would have been a true novelty. Being free, unlike smart phones, they became popular and collectible.

The samples in the images gallery came from a Norwalk sale I visited in 2012 and wrote about here. In the last minutes of the sale I purchased of a box of odds and ends, which included these cards. 

It is a somewhat random selection of cards, but I was lucky enough to see among them one from Norwich, CT. The Wauregan House Pharmacy run by B.A. Herrick was solid establishment begun in 1893. I managed to find a write up on it in a book titled “The Leading Businessmen of Norwich, CT.” In it a glowing review of Mr. Herrick’s business practices are reported. You can see the whole book online here
The most ornate card is the Honest Long Cut Tobacco card featuring the “Modern Ocean Greyhound,” a three-masted steamship. There was likely a collection of numerous ships sold with packages of tobacco.

My favorite card is the one announcing “French Dress Plaiting!” and the offer of “Every plait basted in place.” You’d earn my eternal respect if you knew what this was. It took me several attempts before I surmised that plaits are another name for hair braids. The business’ address on Bleecker Street has a long entry in Wikipedia and has been mentioned in many songs, movies and TV programs and is a famous location for the art and club scene in Manhattan. 

The two cards from McDade’s Grocery in Pennsylvania seem to be more card than advertisement. They scanned the best yet seem the most random for their selection of image and large size. At 100 years or more it is amazing how each of these cards have managed to remain in such good condition.

For the budding collector, I would recommend these as a great way to start. They can be found for a few dollars (sometimes less) and with time will only appreciate in value. Further benefits are that they display nicely and don’t take up a lot of space.

One more card was another popular style offering the holder a challenge to solve the puzzle. Visit the blog and see if you can find the hidden images.

You can read more about Van Antwerp's adventures by visiting his blog.


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