Coloring the Farm

| July 2004

Henry Szlachta revels in his collection of trade cards and advertising lithographs dating to the late 1800s.

He loves the graphics, the history and the variety. But what he really enjoys is imagining the impact when the brightly colored, richly illustrated advertisements first burst onto the scene in the 1870s.

Up to that time, Henry speculates, 'It had been a black-and-white world. There wasn't a lot of art on the walls in farm homes. But suddenly color was introduced into that world. It was art for the masses.'

But it wasn't just art for art's sake. Although dressed up with bright colors and elaborate graphics, trade cards and broadsides were first and foremost a means of advertising products. Before the era of widespread newspaper circulation, magazines, television and radio, manufacturers tried to reach potential customers through eye-catching printed materials that were mailed, inserted in shipments and distributed free at businesses and events.

In the boom era of 1880-1900, advertisements appeared on trade cards (not to be confused with trading cards, as trade refers to businesses in this example), broadsides (poster-sized lithographs displayed at a business), folders, calendars, catalogs and pocket companions. The latter are pocket-sized booklets that contain general, almanac-like information and or information specific to a company, as well as blank pages for record keeping. And Henry Szlachta loves it all.

'It has to speak to you,' he says. 'I really like the color in this stuff and the graphics.'