The William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards contains approximately 300 colorful pharmaceutical trade cards produced in the U.S. and France between 1875 and 1895 that were used to advertise a wide range of goods in the nineteenth century; although introduced (in the mid-eighteenth century) as an ephemeral form of advertisement, they soon became collectors' items and were mass-produced in collectible 'series' comparable to those produced by sports teams in the twentieth century. They are now regarded as some of the best source material for the study of advertising, technology and trade in the post-Civil War period.
The collection was donated to the Academy Library by Mr. Helfand (one the nation's leading collectors of medical ephemera) in a series of individual gifts between 1986 and 1992. The collection includes a number of duplicates, some of which are useful for scholarly study (e.g. bearing the stamps of different distributing pharmacists).
Scope Note: A collection of approximately 300 trade cards, ca. 1875 - ca. 1925 (bulk ca. 1875 - ca. 1914). Almost all advertise patent medicines or herbal remedies; a few deal with cosmetics, chocolate, or veterinary products. The collection includes a small number of French, German, Italian and Spanish cards; however, the bulk of collection is from the United States. Some of the companies represented manufactured the medicines and products advertised on the cards; others are local pharmacies which had their names printed onto cards advertising products they distributed. Many of the medicines and remedies claim to cure almost any complaint, or to address generalized conditions such as weakness, nervousness and general debility. Others address specific conditions or groups of ailments. Only a few cards list the printer or lithographer responsible for producing the image; very few indicate a date of publication or copyright.
Historical Note: Trade cards are small illustrated advertisements that were distributed for free by manufacturers and retailers from the 17th century to the early 20th century. Following the Civil War, trade cards became enormously popular in the United States and were the most effective mass advertising medium until the end of the 19th century. Late 19th century American trade cards were typically small pasteboard cards printed with illustrations in multiple colors. These cards were either custom-produced for one firm or store, or issued as stock cards. Stock cards allowed a manufacturer or retailer to have printed or stamped their advertisement and/or name and address on the front or back of an existing illustrated card, thus avoiding the expense of having one specially made.