Advertising cards, also known as trading or trade cards, originated in 18th century England and made their way across the Atlantic. They were very popular in the Victorian era and functioned somewhat like a modern business card would today. They are highly collectible and offer a pretty window into advertising and companies in the 19th century.
I purchased the one featured today, Vickery’s Aunt Sally Baking Powder, in an antique mall. I decided to use it to demonstrate how to use the Library’s collections to find out more about the company. In this case, the sources that provided the most information were our print business directory collection (many of which we also have on microfilm), our subscription to Ancestry.com, and several news databases.
I was able to quickly determine that Vickery & Co. was located in Scranton, PA but I had to look through our Scranton city business directories to find out more. The company seems to have been founded in the 1870’s – it was in Webb’s 1876 directory located at 58 and 60 Main in what I think was the Hyde Park area. There were two people associated with the company – James Higgins and George H. Vickery. The company/brand hadn’t been listed in Webb’s 1875 directory, although both individuals were listed – Higgins as a baking powder manufacturer and Vickery as a grocer on Main (George was a grocer as far back as 1870 according to the 1870 Census), but it was listed in the 1876 edition. Based on the directory information and because George Vickery filed a Trademark (number 2,806) for baking powder on May 8, 1875, it seems likely the firm was founded in 1875.
While neither gentleman was listed in Lant’s 1877 directory and subsequent directories for Scranton, evidence indicates that the company did continue in some fashion. An article in the October 18, 1875 Harrisburg Patriot indicated that a fire on the 15th destroyed several buildings in Hyde Park and Vickery’s store was one of them. However, I found in the 1880 Census that George H. Vickery was living on Union Street in Philadelphia and listed his occupation as “baking powder manufacturer.” While the 1879, 1880, and 1894 city directories for Philadelphia did list George as making baking powder, they didn’t give a company name. That may mean the business name was his name even though he may have still been selling using the name Aunt Sally brand name. George had several competitors, according to the 1880 Boyd’s directory. I looked under the list for baking powder manufacturers (yes there was a section for this!) and found several – Edis, Mockridge & Co., Hagner Drug Milling Co., John Libe, Miles’ Premium Baking Powder, and Royal Baking Powder Co. I also found in the second Annual Report of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (for the year 1896) the results from tests run on a number of baking powders which did include Aunt Sally baking powder.
There were a few contradictions. The last directory I found that indicated he manufactured baking power was the 1894 Boyd’s directory- the 1895 Boyd’s listed a George H. Vickery selling tea. Also, the 1900 Census did list George as making baking powder, although in a 1900 directory under the classified section for baking power manufacturers he was not listed. I found elsewhere in that directory that there was a George H. Vickery who was a tea wholesaler – but I can’t tell if this is the same George H. Vickery. Unfortunately, in this case directories don’t tell the whole story. I did find that there was a George Henry Vickery who died in 1925 and was buried next to his wife in Philadelphia.
After seeing other cards for the company on the Internet, it does seem that the company created a relatively modern advertising campaign. There seem to have been two distinct series. One was blue and white and used Old Mother Hubbard as the hook. The second series used the same black and red color scheme as the one featured in this post.
- One has “rare fun” at the bottom with mice pulling a cats tail.
- Another has “real fun” at the bottom with a mouse taunting a dog that is tied up.
- There was one with a little bird speaking to a bespectacled fox with “pease, Mister Fox, I is too little” at the bottom.
- Another featured the rhyme “Sing a Song of Six Pence.”
A number of advertising cards are in collections around the country. Boston Public Library seems to have a number of the Aunt Sally cards. Other institutions include Penn State, Miami University (in Ohio), Brooklyn Public Library, Iowa Digital Library, and Duke. The Library of Congress has a number of them, including some collected at the 1900 Paris Exposition and others from Singer Sewing Machine Co. Other individual cards the can be found in the Prints & Photographs collection.