Trade cards, considered to precede business
cards, were used in all parts of England.
The earliest forms of trade cards were to be
found at the beginning of the 17th century in London. These were
used as advertising and also as maps, directing the public to
merchant's stores, as there was no formal street numbering system
at the time.
The popularity of trade cards soared as they
were most effective advertising as newspapers of
the time were not well developed and trade cards by directing
the reader to a merchant played the similar role to today's online
media. The earliest forms of trade cards were printed by the
woodcut or letterpress method. By the 18th century, copperplate
engraving became the most popular method. Up to the 19th century,
trade cards were still done in monotones, or with simple tints. As
businesses grew, so did the production and distribution of
trade cards. Around 1830, lithography using several colors became
an established method in Europe.
During the 19th century new technology and
improved speed of communication made the distribution of
newspapers and periodicals more practical. Advertising in these
media became more affordable and more widespread.
The advent of the machinery that was so
lavishly displayed and advertised, was in itself responsible for
the downfall of the trade card industry.