Antiques and appraisals: advertising trade card

Before I became a collector, I viewed advertising as something on TV, flashy and forgettable, out of my young mind after 15 or 30 seconds. After I started collecting, even unremarkable pages from a newspaper or a magazine could become art, or even history.

Unlike the multi-million-dollar ads shown on TV today, early advertisements were inexpensive giveaways, printed in both black and white and color. They were perfect for collecting: free, small and available everywhere.

One of the earliest first promotional tools was the advertising trade card, which usually promoted a single product or business. These beautiful, illustrated color lithographs were more like business-themed postcards than the stark, tiny business cards of today. They came in many different shapes and sizes — one Heinz ad card was printed in green and shaped like a pickle!

The cards themselves were 2”x3” or larger, and are now often put into albums, like scrapbooks or photo books. They are most commonly found at estate sales, and these homemade collections have sold for as much as $100, depending on the rarity and quality of the cards.

Antique Birnbaums Market MenuBusinesses today could learn a lesson. Merely the prospect of receiving one of these cards would make a trip to the mailbox more exciting.

This flyer advertising is not as colorful as a trade card, but it is an item currently in our Kitson & Company Gallery. This 1933 in-store ad from Birnbaum’s Market in Scranton is in poor condition and was attached to a backing to keep it together, but it is still readable. I would try to sell it for a dollar or two, or frame it and try for $5 or $10. It would be of interest to someone who may remember Birnbaum’s or be a local collector.

Next month, I’ll devote the entire column to appraising some of the great items you have sent us. Until then, I wish you many great finds.

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