Sunday, October 07, 2018
Whatever happened to medical trade cards?
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the manufacturers of proprietary medicines were keen to promote their products. When newspapers started to carry advertisements, therapeutic copy filled the pages. When monthly journals began to appear companies used hard selling messages to promote the use of their efficacious produce. When posters appeared in the middle of the nineteenth century they too contained adverts for all manner of medical apparatus and care pathways. The introduction of inexpensive colour lithography permitted the printing of small advertising cards in economic quantities and medical companies jumped on the promotional opportunities. Trade card or tradesmen cards had been used by pharmacists and other health professions since the seventeenth century.
Paul Revere (1735–1818) silver smith and revolutionary, and William Hogarth (1697–1764), English painter, satirist, engraver, and art theorist. were among the artists to create these cards. The cards were designed to attract the attention of prospective buyers. Subjects on the cards had little or nothing to do with the products advertised and all to do with why they should become an acquisition. The business cards carried text on the reverse side frequently promising complete and rapid cures. A favourite Victorian pastime was to collect these colourful promotions in albums.
The efficacious nature of Ely's Cream Balm was advertised through trade cards.
A Philadelphia pharmacist used the illustration of William Penn's treaty with the barefooted Indians. It is not clear whether his intention was to use Penn's Quaker honesty and fair dealing to imply similar virtues for his firm or perhaps it was the comfort of the bare feet of the Indians that might entice buyers of his corn and bunion plasters. No one is sure.
The Balm of Bethesda a British product not only would cure tender feet as the card proclaimed but also cure corns, chaffed hands , chilblains, itching feet, relieve swelled ankles and remove horny growths. Further, as the proprietor noted, tight boots could be worn with comfort after using Balm of Bethesda.
Redding's Russia Salve was recommended as a cure for conditions as diverse as cancer to ingrown toenails and mosquito bites. The card had a French officer tending a wounded soldier during Napoleon’s ill fated invasion of Russia. This graphically illustrated treatment of a flesh wound with Reading‘s Russian Salve.
The Japanese Corn File was advertised as a safe, simple and efficient instrument with which to rub off hard skin. So safe was the tool that the company boasted a child could use it perfectly safely Eradication of corns was child’s play with the Japanese Corn File It sold for 35cents and could last a family years, according to the advert copy/ The Japanese Corn File is no longer commercially available which might indicate the company was too successful for its own good. Trade cards lost their appeal with the introduction of colour printing in magazines at the turn of the twentieth century. The illustrated postcard arrived just about the same time which sadly hastened their demise. Medical trade cards are now collector’s items.
Reggie's Victorian Trade Card Album