Many Antique Dealers Associations suggest items prior to the 1950’s be considered antique. Years ago items had to be at least 100 years old before they could be designated as such, but now with the scarcity of such items the bar has been lowered - with dealers that is. Historians and museums still apply the old rules.
My own rule as to what I consider antique is based on the assumption that people start seriously collecting in their middle 20’s. A vintage item would be something from their parents’ youth, while an antique would be something from their grandparents’ youth. So right now only items before 1940 would be antique. Which seems to agree with the statement above.
Considering all this, it is obvious that Victorian Paper Ephemera such as Trade Cards and Calling Cards, may be among the oldest true antiques around that are still available to the general public at reasonable prices.
cVictorian Trade Cards d
Victorian Trade Cards, or Advertising Trade Cards, are often just called "Trade Cards" meaning business trades, as in "the shoe trade" or "the sewing machine trade” which can be confused with “trading cards” which are newer, usually issued in sets (e.g. baseball cards) and inserted into product packets such as gum or cigarettes to entice customers to continue to purchase the same brand in order to complete sets.
Victorian trade cards are advertising promotions for goods and services. Most trade cards average about 3 by 5 inches, a little smaller than a postcard, and date from the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 to the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Trade cards were handed out as advertising souvenirs at all of the major expositions during the late-Victorian period. Trade cards were also handed out by merchants or left on sales counters free for the taking. Cards were sometimes handed out by noisy "drummers," people hired to walk the streets looking for potential customers while "drumming up business." They were a cheap and effective way to advertise products and services. A local store would sometimes stamp their name on the back.
Trade cards were beautiful, funny, touching, and some were even considered “naughty”. Most of the Victorian trade cards, but not all, had printing on the backs that described the individual product or service. Typically a trade card has an attractive picture with an advertising slogan on the front, and full advertising text, sometimes with testimonials, especially for patent medicines, on the back. These were mainly chromolithographic instead of engraved, and because of the beautiful coloring they became highly desirable.
Victorians all over America, young and old, suddenly fell into the hobby of collecting these cards and pasting them into scrapbook albums for their parlors. One could call it a definite fad. Today, scrapbooks are still being discovered in attic trunks, and these fascinating albums are the source for most of the trade cards that are being sold today. Unfortunately, most were glued in. To save money, some Victorian collectors even made their own flour-based pastes for holding cards in scrapbooks. Many trade cards have stains on the back from such glues or pieces of scrapbook paper attached. Once in a while, cards were glued into scrapbooks using leather glue or other strong adhesive, and these cards are virtually impossible to remove from pages without severely damaging the cards. Many times the cards were trimmed or cut into shapes. The most desirable method from today’s standpoint was for the card to be placed in corner frames that allowed the collector to remove the card from the album to view the back.
Trade cards can be classified into two types: stock and custom. Stock cards are the most common type. These cards generally depict scenes of flowers, children, animals, and scenery. Stock cards often have a blank area in the design that can be imprinted with the names and locations of stores or companies with limited advertising budgets. The backs were typically blank so that they could be printed by the advertiser. Custom cards are those produced by or for specific companies who, as a rule, copyrighted their designs. They often incorporated a picture of the product being advertised, sometimes quite imaginatively.
Trade cards were eventually replaced by magazine ads and other advertising items such as ink blotters and notepads. Those who wanted to collect cards turned to collecting postcards and trading cards. By the end of the 1904 World's Fair trade cards all but disappeared from the advertising scene.
Today the number of collectors of Victorian Trade Cards is growing, and prices have been steadily moving upward. With the collecting of trade cards we capture a piece of social and cultural history – what people bought, how they looked, what they liked. Perhaps more than any other collectible, these cards provide glimpses into the everyday lives of the Americans of a hundred years ago and have become a testament to our history.
cVictorian Calling Cards d
The custom of carrying calling cards began in France in the early 1800's. It quickly spread to the United States. Calling cards were carried by Victorian ladies who visited, or “called on,” friends and family on a specified day of the week or month. The cards are therefore also known as "visiting cards."
Many thousands of cards were printed from 1800 through the 1890's and styles changed from hand-penned cards to simple print, then hidden name, and even tiny envelope insert cards. The earliest cards have fancy scrollwork and were hand embellished by a professional calligrapher, one card at a time. The edge of the card was as decorative as the rest. Edges were gilded, pierced, fancy razor cut, and scalloped. Hidden name calling cards, meant that the name was printed on the white card and then covered by what is called a decorative Victorian "scrap," which is attached to the card on the left side. Many of these scraps were made in Germany. The receiver would lift the scrap to see the visitors name underneath. The most common scraps picture hands, roses, and doves, still in rich vibrant colors today. In fact, most Victorian calling cards are still richly colorful after over 100 years, all because of the chromolithographic printing process used.
Calling cards were left at each home visited, whether the people were home or not. The person visiting would leave their card on a plate or tray set on a hall or vestibule table or on the parlor’s central table. Sometimes the visitor would leave the card with a servant so that the homeowner would know they stopped by.
In the Victorian day, the design, style, and even color border of a card actually carried a meaning to the receiver. A folded top left corner meant the visitor had come in person; an unfolded card meant a servant was sent. A folded right top corner meant congratulations, and the lower right fold expressed sympathy. A black band around the edge indicated the visitor was in mourning.
Traveling salesmen could make a nice living selling these calling cards alone. A packet of cards could be bought for a dollar or so, depending on the design. Salesman’s samples are among the best-preserved examples available today because, like trade cards, calling cards soon became another item to add to one’s scrapbook.
Calling cards were most often placed on trays set out on marble top entry tables. The trays were usually silver or silver plate and had a rich, ornate design. Cards were carried in a variety of finely crafted cases made of sterling, mother of pearl, tortoiseshell, velvet, ivory, and more. Both the trays and the cases are now highly prized by collectors.
In the day of genteel manners and formal introductions, the exchange of calling cards was a social custom that was essential in developing friendships, but with the development of early penny postcards around the turn-of-the century, visiting became less common and the postcard era began. Calling cards are getting harder and harder to find every day, and like trade cards have found a niche in the heart of the modern collector.
As described above, the beauty of both trade cards and calling cards is due to the chromolithograph process. So what is a …
cChromolithographic Print d
It was the first true multi-color printing method. Previously color had been applied by hand. The first man to use it for commercial production was the Frenchman, Godefrey Engleman, in the 1830's. The process was based on lithography, but a stone was used for each color and each separate color was laid on top of the previous one, so the paper sheet was printed on several times before the print was finished. As the century progressed Chromolithography became more intricate and as many as fifteen stones were employed with some wonderful results. The Victorians fell in love with this method of printing because of its rich colouring. Today’s collectors feel much the same.