Advertising Trade Cards

Advertising Trade Card for B. T. Babbitt, Best Soap

Advertising Trade Card for B. T. Babbitt, Best Soap

Portions of this post came from an interview with Heidi Abbey conducted by Patricia Gael in 2013, then graduate assistant in Publishing and Curation Services. With thanks to Heidi and Patricia, both, for their time and efforts!

This digital collection consists of over 150 advertising trade cards from the Alice Marshall Women’s History Collection (AMC), located in Archives and Special Collections at the Penn State Harrisburg Library.

Heidi Abbey is the Archivist and Humanities Reference Librarian, Coordinator of Archives and Special Collections, and Library Faculty Liaison to the School of Humanities at Penn State Harrisburg. It is thanks to her that over 150 trade cards from the Alice Marshall Women’s History Collection (AMC), located in Harrisburg’s Archives and Special Collections, have now been digitized.

So what are trade cards? Trade cards were used as an early form of advertising by businesses to promote goods and services to customers. Trade cards are known as “printed ephemera,” – that is, printed materials that were not designed to last. Many of the cards are embossed and brightly-colored examples of chromolithography, a chemical process used during the mid-19th century for making multi-color prints. The fascinating aspect of this collection is that these cards showcase the 19th- and 20th-century woman as an entrepreneur. They are searchable by occupational category (ranging from dressmakers and hairdressers to photographers or spiritual mediums), as well as by location.

The trade cards in this collection are useful primary resources for students and researchers in numerous fields including American Studies, women’s studies, advertising and business history, and the visual arts. One example of how these cards, and the Alice Marshall collection in general, can be used in class is the collaboration between Heidi and Dr. Erin Battat, formerly an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies and now Lecturer in History and Literature at Harvard University. Erin incorporated the Alice Marshall collection into 6 sections of a class entitled “Women and the American Experience.” Between Fall 2011 and Spring 2013, students in the classes were asked to choose an item – options included a piece of sheet music, a magazine advertisement, a paper-doll, or a pin-back button promoting women’s suffrage – and to investigate the contexts in which it was used. When daily use of the physical collections became heavy (the classes brought an average of 35-40 students per semester into the archives!), Heidi and Erin struck upon the idea of digitizing themed collections of items that students could access online. Those items, which include postcards, medals, valentines, and more, are available to the public on Flickr. In February 2013, the students’ work turned into a mobile exhibit using copies of 27 objects that were studied in the class.

The advertising trade cards in this digital collection represent only a small portion of the women’s history collection. For more information about other items in the Alice Marshall Women’s History Collection, please visit the website.

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