Trade Cards

‘Trade card’ is in many ways a misnomer until the 19th century, when pasteboard increasingly replaced the paper traditionally used for trade cards. The contemporary terminology was (variously) shop bill, shop-keeper’s bill, tradesman’s bill, tradesman’s card, message or messuage card. It would seem, however, that ‘bill’ did occasionally refer to engraved bill headings (this is implied in William Bailey’s tradesman’s verse at the British Library, which makes a distinction between ‘shop-bills’ and ‘cards’). However, bill headings were often called ‘bills of parcels’, as in no. 87, which distinguishes between ‘trademan’s shop bills’ (i.e. trade cards) and ‘bills of parcels.’

Bill Headings

Bill headings can be distinguished from trade cards by the presence of the words ‘Bot of’ (bought of) or ‘Dr to’ (debtor to). The engraving used for a tradesman’s card was sometimes also used for his bill, but the illustrations in bill headings are mostly simpler, and more compact. Bill headings have advantages over trade cards as purveyors of information: they are almost invariably dated (dates are usually lacking in the printed matter of trade cards), they have prices, the purchases detailed often add to the printed lists of products sold, and they convey information about the purchasers. Often, however, trade cards themselves were used as bills. Both the recto and verso were frequently used for manuscript accounts. Occasionally, the verso of a trade card was printed as a bill heading. An example is the card of David Buffar (no. 24).

Tradesmen’s Lists

Tradesmen’s lists are single sheet lists of products usually (but not always) without prices, usually (but not always) letterpress. The tradesman’s list of Robert Bull of Leith (no. 80) is one exception to this, being engraved, illustrated and having prices. Alexander Jolly’s tradesman’s list (no. 116) is also engraved, and carries an illustration of his trade sign. Catalogues existed in the 18th century, especially for specialist trades such as scientific instruments, where constant developments and inventions necessitated detailed descriptions (see Bidstrup’s catalogue, no. 250). However, where the names of goods were sufficient, the tradesman’s list was a convenient method of detailing the scope of a business. Two hundred years later, the information they contain is invaluable in understanding the nature of trades.

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