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Black Americana Trade Cards: An Insight Into Social History

June 6th, 2007 · No Comments

Trade cards have become an increasingly desirable collectible due in large part to their fanciful graphics, which often appeal to postcard collectors. Here are two great c. 1880s examples of black Americana advertising on trade cards. While these examples are almost the same size as vintage postcards, some trade cards are much smaller.

Black Americana Trade Card, White Swan Soap

Trade cards are often politically incorrect by today’s standards but, as with these black Americana trade cards, they are also desirable from a social history standpoint, mirroring as they do contemporary attitudes towards many issues: in this case, minorities. In the first image, we see a barefoot “pickaninny,” swinging and pulling with all his might on a clean white shirt imprinted with the saying: “This shirt was washed with White Swan Soap. Does not rot the clothes.” In the background, an agitated black female, also barefoot, stands next to a log cabin (implying poverty), waving her arms in the air. One can almost hear her yelling at the boy to let go of the shirt this instant! White Swan Soap was made by the Flower City Soap Co. of Rochester, New York.

Black Americana, Clark Thread Fishing Trade Card

Clark’s Thread also published many trade cards. In this spool cotton image, the black boy is again barefoot and wearing patched clothes. He has a sort of stereotypical “bug-eyed” look sometimes seen in early black caricatures. In this advertisement, the boy boasts that Clark’s Thread is so strong that he can use it as a fishing line, probably because he was impoverished but resourceful. His English is broken in a stereotyped way, with the caption reading: “I Reckon Dis Yere’s Strong ’Nuff, Suah.”


Visit for a nice selection of graphically striking trade cards and related ephemera. Or, read about the search for a swan postcard for a dying man.

Copyright ©2007

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