The Printing of Trade Cards (Case 4, nos. 83-103)

In the first part of this section, we give examples of the trade cards and advertisements of printers who advertised the printing of shopkeepers’ bills or tradesmen’s cards, either as the whole or as part of their business.

As we have seen, trade cards were printed using various means: in letterpress alone; in letterpress with woodcut or wood engraving; by copper-plate engraving; by steel engraving; or by lithography. Occasionally, letterpress and copper-plate engraving would be combined in the same card, one process on the recto, the other on the verso, as in the tradesman’s list of Philips and Atkinson (no. 81).

The production of trade cards is often entirely anonymous. Imprints are rare in letterpress cards. Exceptions included W. Holloway of Bampton, and there are several examples of his jobbing printing in the John Johnson Collection.

Many engravers left their work unsigned. This is not surprising when one considers the number of booksellers and stationers who offered printing as a routine part of their business. Trade cards, bill headings, tickets, window bills, advertisements, etc., were just lowly jobbing printing. We find it surprising, however, when engraving of high quality is unsigned, and fascinating when jobbing engravers did sign their work. The work of the prolific William Newman is well represented in the Collection (and, indeed, in the Heal and Banks collections at the British Museum). Examples of his work are shown in part 12 and elsewhere in the exhibition.

Famous Engravers

Occasionally, tradesmen commissioned fine engravers to produce their cards, and these were often signed. They represent some of the high points in the history of trade cards. Hogarth, Bartolozzi, Sturt, Benjamin and William Cole, Corbould and Bickham all turned to jobbing engraving at some point in their careers. Trade cards by these engravers suggested much about the prestige of the establishment and of the esteem in which the tradesman held himself, especially when a provincial tradesman commissioned a card from a well-known London engraver, as in the case of Benjamin Cole’s card for Benjamin Pearkes (no. 27). Some examples of jobbing engraving by famous engravers rank as minor works of art. Tickets and trade cards by Bartolozzi and his school were widely collected in his lifetime and Hogarth’s jobbing printing was subject to forgery.

It is noteworthy that engravers’ own trade cards were rarely high points of their art. It seems that most were more inspired by responding to an outside challenge. Hogarth’s trade card is a notable example.

Occasionally printers or their customers annotated trade cards with the number of copies printed and sometimes also with the cost of printing. There are examples of this at nos. 108 and 109 and many more in the printers’ copies of trade cards in the Bridgnorth Collection.

The trade card of Jessington Rozea gives an idea of the typical print-run for trade cards. Financial incentives were given for tradesmen to increase their orders. Such information about pricing is rare. It would seem that no distinction in cost was made between letterpress and engraving. William Bailey’s tradesman’s verse of c. 1788 in the British Library, already cited above, gives the following information:

As I do work at such a Price,
‘Twill suit the Frugal, or the Nice;
SHOP-BILLS I have printed long since,
At the Rate of three and six-pence
Per Thousand; --- or, as Size and Papers vary,
Then a different Price they carry;
For CARDS, (the best,) mind what I say
One Hundred HALF-A-CROWN you’ll pay;
If then two hundred you should have,
No more than SHILLINGS FOUR I crave;
For Five Hundred, you pay me NINE;
SIXTEEN one Thousand, quite as fine.
But if a common Card you’d have,
A Trifle in Expence you’ll save.
But then the Truth I must reveal,
That I for READY-MONEY deal.

Once letterpress cards were printed, the type would be removed from the forme and distributed. This goes some way towards explaining the variants which can sometimes be seen in 18th-century letterpress cards, where the text is actually or substantially the same. Three variants exist of the J. Bird trade card (no. 22) and several (some with the same prices) of the trade card of Brown, ‘taylor’ (no. 257). Often the changes are merely a by-product of the typesetting process. Copper plates, on the other hand, could be altered to a certain extent when, for example, ownership of the business changed at the death of a partner. Many alterations were made to copper plates after 1762, when street numbers were introduced and added to existing plates. The card of J. Rozea (no. 85) advertises the alteration of plates as a service.

Case 4 Supplementary Images

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