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The Trade Cards of Old London

May 3, 2012
by the gentle author

Is your purse or wallet like mine, bulging with old trade cards? Do you always take a card from people handing them out in the street, just to be friendly? Do you pick up interesting cards in idle moments, intending to look at them later, and find them months afterwards in your pocket and wonder how they got there? So it has been for over three hundred years in London, since the beginning of the seventeenth century when trade cards began to be produced as the first advertising. Here is a selection of cards you might find, rummaging through a drawer in the eighteenth century.

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You might also like to take a look at

The Signs of Old London

26 Responses leave one →
  1. John Hurst permalink
    May 3, 2012

    Truly extraordinary display….thank you for sharing these cards. I am drooling over the quality of lettering, script and so forth.

  2. John Hurst permalink
    May 3, 2012

    Sometime soon, I have to arrange myself in a comfy chair in a cozy room (or with summer coming, a pretty garden) and read all the posts from you that I have yet to enjoy. I’m so looking forward to this! And many compliments and congratulations on the success of your wonderful book.

  3. May 3, 2012

    These are wonderful. Thank you for posting them.
    So much can be gleaned about eighteenth century London life through them.

  4. Annie permalink
    May 3, 2012

    Again, brilliance. I am going to show this to my class of 1o year olds in our lessons on London.
    They will be delighted to learn what night soil is but I shall veer away from explaining the work of a steel truss…

  5. May 3, 2012

    These are wonderful – I love the designs and the words – much to be enjoyed and very inspiring -
    thank you!

  6. May 3, 2012

    What an incredible Post! And what a rich Resource! I have seen a few of these Trade Bills, but never this proliferation. Quite, quite wonderful!

  7. julie permalink
    May 3, 2012

    Wonderful.

  8. cris dyson permalink*
    May 3, 2012

    I am full of wonder and inspiration reading these images such text of beauty must surely be relevant and
    inspire todays trades to match this in order to gain trade in these chastened times?
    Thankyou

  9. May 3, 2012

    I would love to have a go at creating something of this nature for a few of the Spital-fields traders to-day. London must have been such a colourful place before house numbers (a tyranny of the Post-office), when all addresses where marked by Sign-Boards and Images. I have a marvellous book on the subject..

  10. Valerie Fairbrass permalink
    May 3, 2012

    I love Tegg’s Eccentric Book Warehouse. I wonder if eccentric had a slightly different meaning then. And the interior of the circulating library looking surprisingly empty apart from the dog with most of the shelves in deep shade. I think books could be chosen by printed catalogue rather than by browsing the shelves which might explain this.

  11. andrea permalink
    May 3, 2012

    Very evocative. Couldn’t help noticing the frequency of the expression “all sorts of.”

  12. Simon Costin permalink*
    May 3, 2012

    Utterly beautiful!

  13. Chris F permalink
    May 3, 2012

    Must make a note to self to get a steel spring truss! These cards are brilliant. They bear looking at several times simply for the detail that they contain. Also amazing how many of these businesses were opposite or near a pub!

  14. John Campbell permalink
    May 3, 2012

    Gentle Author, how wonderful to see these beautiful items. The ‘nightman’ is my favourite as i am the modern day version i guess. I am sure many of your curious visitors here would like to read of the tradesmen of old London and their weird and wonderful daily duties. Perhaps a new category – Working Life?

  15. Marina permalink
    May 4, 2012

    One is better than the next. They are all wonderful examples! Makes me want to jump on a plane and head to London right now!

  16. melbournegirl permalink
    May 4, 2012

    These are so lovely. Posts like these make me wonder – when is the NEXT book coming out?

  17. Cherub permalink
    May 4, 2012

    Thank you for showing us these. I work as a copywriter (mainly in new media) and it’s very interesting to see how people promoted themselves in bygone times. I’m particularly attracted to the ad for fine leather breeches!

  18. May 4, 2012

    What a fantastic insight into ancient marketing. Superb collection. Now, how do I print em all ?

  19. Helen permalink
    May 6, 2012

    So lovely ! Particularly liked the ‘peruke maker ‘

    think one of my Huguenot ancestors was one !

  20. May 19, 2012

    How interesting! I was searching for something from a Glass Seller as I’m a Liveryman and Court Assistant in the Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers and Looking Glass Makers of London.

  21. March 29, 2013

    Absolutely fascinating. As a Londoner, I spent a great deal of time trying to work out the current positions of the businesses. I was also intrigued by the frequency of “all sorts of” and, as usual, the myriad different spellings.

  22. D Hitchins permalink
    April 22, 2013

    Excellent clean trade cards, and so early! I wish we could all share our trade cards as you do.

  23. Colin permalink
    September 25, 2013

    Can you help? I am looking for trade cards from 1730 to 1850 in the name of ‘HOSE’ Cordwainers (Shoemakers) of Cheapside and Lombard St, also their brother Joseph Hose, Tailor.
    Best Regards

    Colin Hose (descendant)

  24. Colin permalink
    November 7, 2013

    Any cards in the name of either John Hose, Cordwainer, Joseph Hose, Tailor and Thomas Hose, Cordwainer fro 1718 onwards

  25. Richard G Wilson permalink
    May 24, 2014

    Thanks! A beautiful display of life in 18th century london!
    I have collected books, bookplates, calling cards, rewards of merit, and advertising ephemera with 18th & 19th century fine line engraving for years and would love to acquire some london trade cards from this period.

    Do you have any for sale? Or, can you recommend any dealers that I could contact to get some? Thanks again

  26. sally pickersgill permalink
    September 3, 2014

    Beautiful type, language & graphics…you knew what services people “offered” in days gone by, complete absence of nefarious non-jobs!

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