Beginning in the mid-1880's, the Arbuckle Bros. Coffee Company began to include advertising cards, commonly referred to as "trade cards" in packages of their coffee. This was a common device used by many companies of the time to tout the virtues of their products.
One side of each card usually consisted of a color lithograph designed to be visually appealing to the average consumer of the Victorian era so that they would be induced to save it. The card might show pretty flowers, artistic "still lifes", scenic vistas of far-away places, unusual animals, adorable children, happy families, religious scenes, or contemporary humor. The company would sometimes imprint their name or their product's name on the illustrated side of the card, or even work the product into the illustration. In some cases the back of the card would be blank and in others would display the company's advertising message which, it was hoped, would be imparted to the consumer (and the consumer's friends and family) every time the card was looked at and admired. Blank-backed cards could be rubber-stamped or imprinted by local distributors or retailers of the company's product.
The Arbuckle company carried the concept a step further. They believed that these cards, if they were sufficiently attractive and desirable enough, could actually be an inducement to the consumer to choose their coffee over their competitors' in the first place. As part of that approach, they began to issue cards in numbered series and to encourage people to collect these entire "sets". They suggested that if a buyer happened to get two of a particular card, they could exchange the extra one with a neighbor who had two of another. Thus, "trade" cards began to evolve into "trading" cards.
These fascinating cards are still actively collected today, more than 125 years after they were issued. The original Arbuckle Bros. Coffee Company, on the other hand, vanished from the scene more than 75 years ago.
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