Trade cards, also known as advertising cards, are small cards that businesses would distribute to clients and potential customers and are an early example of modern business cards. Trade cards became popular at the beginning of the 18th century and reached their golden age between 1876 and 1900. The development of color printing and chromolithography made trade cards brilliantly colorful and highly collectable, especially by children who would paste trade cards in scrapbooks. The Milwaukee Public Library Richard E. and Lucile Krug Rare Books Room has a collection of over 500 trade cards that document Milwaukee's business history from the Victorian era. This extraordinary collection captures an exciting period in Milwaukee history and provides a snapshot of the kinds of goods and services offered locally in the late 1800's. Many of the cards belong to businesses in and around the downtown area but also feature cards from around the city. If you have any questions about the trade cards, or would like to view them in person, please contact the Arts, Music and Recreation Room at (414) 286-3071.
A special thanks to Rachel Tanis for her invaluable help with this project.
This project was made possible through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds, awarded to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction by the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services [14-205].