Hey, Wanna Trade? (Cards): Oysters, Baking Powder, Beef Tea, and More!

As our unofficial “Ephemera Month” comes to a close, I, as usual, over did it. I planned to scan a few trade cards (other than some of the one we’ve featured previously here and here and here). The next thing I knew, I was scanning almost an entire folder of trade cards in the Culinary Ephemera Collection, with visions of uploading them to our digital platform in the near future. So, there went the morning. There were only a few in the folder, but many, many more waiting to be added to the collection from some recent acquisitions–and I didn’t have time to start on the cache of Arm & Hammer/Dwight & Church birds! Here are a few examples:

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Clearly, trade cards are used to sell anything and everything! These examples include food products and (patent) medicines, but others in our collection are from Metropolitan Life Insurance Company,  baby food companies, stove companies, and we even have a series from a Chicago-based canned meat company that feature quotes and illustrations from Shakespeare (more those another day). Many, like the Quaker Oats, came in collectible series–we have two of the twelve. A number of the ones we recently discovered here were signed or contain notes indicating something of their provenance, like the Craighill’s Compound Syrup of Sarsaparilla one, which reads “Pearl Burks from her Teacher 1897.” Like books and manuscripts, even these little ephemeral pieces of paper can have a story and raise questions. Did a teacher reward students with these or was this particular student a collector and the teacher knew that?

It’s hard to pick a favorite from the few above, let alone the whole folder, and trade cards will stand out to people for different reasons. There’s something that will catch your attention with most, whether it’s the illustration, the product, the testimonials, or the advertising techniques. However, certainly ONE of my favorites is the tiny, folding piece from the Liebig Company, with its elegant cover image, convenient calendar, and well-placed add for extract (good for “beef tea soups and gravies”).

I’ll post an update when I get all the cards into Special Collections Online. But, in the meantime, you’re always welcome to come and flip through our trade cards and ephemera in person! No doubt you’ll find something to make you smile or wonder.

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