Trade Cards Used as Promotional Pieces for Farm Equipment

Moline Plow Co. trade card a standout


| May 2013



Moline Portly Ad

A rather portly gentleman strikes a pose in the card.

Photo Courtesy John Cole

Trade cards were widely used as promotional pieces in the early 1900s. Business owners and dealers of all types distributed them at no charge as a means of promoting goods and products. The front typically showed a color illustration of children while the back was reserved for product information. A blank area allowed the business owner to personalize the card with the company name and address.

Trade cards were typically rectangular, ranging in width from 2 inches to 10 inches. From the beginning they were considered collectible; decades ago, many people displayed the colorful cards in their homes or filled albums with them.

Cards advertising farm equipment were less commonly available than those for other concerns, and odd-shaped cards were very unusual. Elaborate, colorful illustrations added to their appeal. A die-cut card produced for the Nebraska branch house of Moline Plow Co., Moline, Ill., is a rare example of a card that combined quality graphics and innovative design. The card is designed to be folded into a neat, pocket-size packet, revealing its message as it is opened.

When folded, the card shows two ears of corn and the message, “You must acknowledge that corn (represented not by the word corn, but by the illustration of two ears) is king.” Unfolded, the card reveals its promotional claims. A bit of a pun marks another panel, which shows the backside of a corncob pipe-smoking farmer and a message communicated through words and illustration: “Never turn your back on our plows.”

The card’s back is dominated by an illustration of a rotund man (inexplicably sporting a huge set of wings) in a pose reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty. “We take the liberty of enlightening the world to the merits of our goods,” the inscription reads.

Although this specific card shows a little wear, the colors and graphics are still vibrant. Folding cards were particularly vulnerable to the passage of time. Over time, many weakened along the folds to the point where panels separated and they were thrown away.