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Mary R. Schiff Library and Archives June Display: Trading Cards

by Geoff Edwards


Mary R. Schiff Library and Archives , Trading Cards , library , archives , CAM



If you visit the Mary R. Schiff Library during June, you can see a display of collectible trading cards from the 1880s through the 1920s. The examples on show come from the museum’s archives, and are drawn from a number of different sets originally issued by tobacco companies as an incentive to purchase their products.


 cigarette rading card with a drawing of a canada goose and a native american stalking through some reeds


As well as cards featuring “Game Birds” and “Fancy Dress Costumes”, we also have a selection of champion pugilists (boxers, if you prefer), oarsmen, and baseball players, including the Reds’ own Jimmy Ring (1895-1965) – no, I hadn’t heard of him either.


Jimmy Ring baseball card


There’s also a set of cards showing silent movie stars of the 1920s. Though most are largely forgotten today, they were the Jennifer Lawrences and Bradley Coopers of their day. Mabel Normand (1892-1930), for example, was an actress, screenwriter, director, and producer. At the height of her career she was making $3,500 per week – that’s over $50,000 in today’s money.


Mabel Normand trading card


The modern trading card evolved from late 17th century “trade cards”. Popular in Great Britain and France, these were handed out by business owners as a means of promoting their trade or business.

In the Victorian period, a typical trade card had a picture on one side and an advertisement on the other. As they became increasingly attractive and colorful, the cards became collectible in their own right. Seeing a marketing opportunity, the tobacco industry started to include cards in packets of cigarettes in the late 19th century. Released in sets to encourage customer loyalty, the cards featured a range of subjects, everything from historic figures and sporting stars to gemstones and lighthouses. These cigarette cards would eventually evolve into the modern trading card.