Nope! We’re not trading these cards for anything!

Dr. Thomas Electric Oil - front

Trade card (front) advertising Dr. Thomas’ Electric Oil, a remedy prepared by Foster, Milburn & Co., Buffalo, NY

When we say “trade cards,” what comes to mind?

Maybe those cards depicting baseball players, with all those tiny numbers on the back? The ones collected and traded by children of all ages?

It may surprise you to know that we have more than 2,600 trade cards! But they have nothing to do with baseball players, and we wouldn’t trade them for anything. They’re part of the Edward C. Atwater Collection of American Popular Medicine.

Trade card (back)

These late 19th and early 20th century cards advertise patent medicines, mineral waters, dietary supplements, and other health products; everything from breath freshener to Coca-Cola.

The rapid development of new consumer markets in the post-Civil War U.S. created a need for an effective national advertising medium, a need met by the lithographed trade card. Today, these colorful cards offer a glimpse of the society, culture, and economy in which 19th century Americans lived. The fact that these palm-sized pieces of paper have survived for over a hundred years in such excellent condition is amazing.

Over the last four years, we have been scanning the trade cards in this collection and uploading them into UR Research. (Enter Atwater Patent Medicine Trade Cards in the Search field at the top of the page.) All 2,600 cards haven’t been scanned yet, but we’re working on it. We just scanned and uploaded the two-thousandth card.

What’s UR Research?

UR Research is an institutional repository developed and hosted by the River Campus Libraries. It provides storage and access for dissertations, preprints, research data, and similar materials.

UR Research also can provide researchers with a private, secure workspace for collaboration with other researchers. Once you set up your own workspace, you can give controlled access to others.

For questions about UR Research: Use the Contact Us form

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