Trade card

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Trade card, 1730-1742 V&A Museum no. 14435:60

Trade card describes small cards, similar to the visiting cards exchanged in social circles, that businesses would distribute to clients and potential customers. Trade cards first became popular at the beginning of the 17th century in London. These functioned as advertising and also as maps, directing the public to merchants' stores, as no formal street address numbering system existed at the time.

The trade card is an early example of the modern business card. Some businesses began to create increasingly sophisticated designs, especially with the development of color printing. A few companies specialized in producing stock cards, usually with an image on one side and space on the other side for the business to add its own information. As the designs became more attractive and colorful, collecting trade cards became a popular hobby in the late 19th century, since color images were not yet widely available.

In its original sense, the "trade" in trade card refers to its use by the proprietor of a business to announce his trade, or line of business. By moving into the realm of collecting, trade cards gave rise to the trading card, the meaning now shifting to the exchange or trade of cards by enthusiasts. Some cards, particularly those produced by tobacco companies featuring baseball players, later developed into collectibles and lost their function as a business advertisement.

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