The False Advertising of Sophistically Decorated, 19th-Century Pharmaceutical Trade Cards

  • 2017-07-07
  • Hyperallergic

When you think of bunions, and warts, the image of a blooming red rose may not immediately come to mind. But beautifully rendered flowers were often printed on medical advertisements in the late 19th century, along with songbirds and other charming scenes of nature, to sell everything from corn salves to laxatives.

These small, light cardboard cards, known as trade cards, proliferated in the last two decades of the 1800s. They were distributed by merchants to their customers to promote their products, and many of the most elaborately and skillfully designed ones were those from the pharmaceutical industry. As freely given pictures with color — a novelty at the time — they were cherished, collected, and saved in scrapbooks like treasured baseball cards.