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Advertising cards and ephemera collection

 Collection — Folder: S3117
Identifier: S3117

Scope and Contents

This collection includes advertising cards, tickets, calling cards, a postcard, and pamphlets from various businesse enterprises and organizations in Indianapolis, Indiana and New York, New York, ranging from circa 1860 to 1935 regarding products such as tonics and curatives, soap, coffee, and tickets to fairs and sporting, club, and public speaking events. Many of the cards appear to have been removed from a scrapbook.


  • circa 1860-1935

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Legal title, copyright, and literary rights reside with Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, IN. All requests to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted to Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Historical note

"Trade cards were used primarily during the late 19th century to advertise everything from breath freshener to Coca-Cola. A cheap and effective way to reach consumers, their heyday was between 1876 and 1904. Expositions (such as the St. Louis World’s Fair), were popular places for companies to distribute their product cards. Druggist's and other merchant’s counters often had a number of different trade cards on them, in the hopes of encouraging patronage. Trade cards often featured beautiful illustrations, humorous cartoons or worthy sayings, and they captured the imagination of the Victorians who became keen collectors of them. The Victorians would compile their collections in scrapbooks, and it became a popular pastime. Current collectors classify the trade cards into two categories:

Stock: Generic cards with interesting images that could be personalized and applied to any product. Backs were left blank so a local advertiser could include his own message and information.

Custom: These cards were produced specifically for a product or company, and thus typically have unique designs and feature the product being advertised.

By the turn of the century, trade cards were on the wane, as magazine ads became more popular, and postcards became the new collectible.Trade cards offer a unique window into the social history of nineteenth century America."

From: Public Broadcasting Service. "Trade cards." History Detectives. Accessed August 5, 2015.

"Neatly packaged and visually arresting, trade cards functioned as precious tokens — keepsakes that illustrated the promise of individual products and the road to a better life. Print curator Eleanor Garvey contends that, “The colorful, expensively produced ad in and of itself was a treat: both an invitation to step into a more ‘complete’ and luxurious life by buying the product, and at the same time a token of that life. The more expensive an ad, the more it was worth to the consumer."

From: Harvard Business School, Baker Library. "Trade cards." The Art of American Advertising, 1865-1910. Online exhibit. Accessed August 5, 2015.


0.01 Cubic Feet (1 folder)

Language of Materials



This collection is arranged chronologically.

Custodial History

This collection was received by Rare Books and Manuscripts as a donation.


No further additions are expected.

Processing Information

Collection processing completed 2020/08/21 by Brittany Kropf. EAD finding aid created 2020/08/21 by Brittany Kropf.
Advertising cards and ephemera collection
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

140 North Senate Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204 U.S.A.