Trade Cards, as Fleeting and Fragile as Butterfly Wings

Posted in exhibitions, resources by Editor on March 29, 2010

The trade card collection from Waddeston Manor is a fascinating collection of advertising images. Searchable, high-resolution images accompanied by notes are available here. The following description comes from The Warwick Eighteenth-Century Center.

Card of Didier Aubert, Printseller & Engraver

Advertising has long been known to be both the reflection of and means to create desire for commodities. The study of historical advertising is, therefore, a key means to understand consumers and consumer markets in early modern society. Despite an extensive literature on the proliferation of new goods and their consumers between 1760 and 1800, there has been little research on the part played by advertising in creating consumer markets. Furthermore, research has tended to focus on texts and the English-speaking world.

Waddesdon Manor has a unique collection of French and German trade cards dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Trade cards, prints with a combination of image and text, provided information about the location, goods and services of a given business. A thorough study of these objects can inform us about early modern attitudes to the burgeoning world of goods and the inter-relationship between commercial and fine art.

Card of Nicolas de Fer, Geographer and Map-seller, A La Sphere Royale, 1705

‘Selling Consumption,’ is a three-year Leverhulme funded project that seeks to catalogue and analyse these cards using approaches from social history, material culture, art history and the history of collections to provide a resource based on this rich, but under-studied, form of commercial ephemera. The catalogue will be published in the form of an on-line database in Spring 2009, providing scholars with a vital resource to continue the study and understanding of this material. The database has been designed to allow scholars to search by trade or product as well as by decorative motif or iconographic subject. A further field entitled ‘Research Concepts’ aims to facilitate searching the database through the lens of contemporary research interests.

This project has led on to the organisation of an exhibition, to be held at Waddesdon Manor from March to October 2008. The exhibition ‘Selling Shopping in Paris 1680-1820’ will introduce visitors to the unique collection of French trade cards and allow them to learn what and how the cards tell us about the production of advertising, the imagery of consumption, the types of products on sale, the location of trades, as well as what it was like to go shopping in Paris of the long eighteenth century. The items on display: trade cards, textiles, drawings, books, and other objet d’art reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the project.

Marvels in the Marketplace: the Germanic trade cards at Waddesdon Manor

In the course of digitising, cataloguing and investigating the rare collection of trade cards at Waddesdon Manor, the uniqueness of a particular part of the collection has come to light. The last of the four volumes does not contain French prints, nor is it arranged in the broad chronology used to organise the rest of the material. A group of cards relating to hotels and inns, as well as a significant number representing dealers in paintings, antiquities and silverware, provides evidence of links between French mercantile travel and the formation of the collection. Another group of cards illustrating human prodigies and fair-ground entertainers indicates that this ‘French’ view of Germanic cultural activity was figured through the spectacle of abnormal bodies. Currently, it is believed that the French collections of ephemera were driven by nostalgia for the Paris of the Ancien Regime. These cards indicate that other interests helped to shape the collection. A three-month British Academy grant will allow the cataloguing of this volume using the methodologies developed in the ‘Selling Consumption’ project, as well as allowing discreet research to be carried out on these cards . . . .

For additional information, including a bibliography, click here»

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