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Toward the end of the 19th century, the practice of making trade cards and paper handouts featuring the American flag overprinted with advertising. Advertisements often with one or more candidates of an impending political election or specific products and events became popular among businesses across America.  At the height of the practice, circa 1880-1890, trade cards featuring the a presidential portrait or candidate in the canton could be ordered in bulk quantity with custom overprints for a particular business or event.  The most prevalent of these were made for the 1880 election between James A. Garfield and Winfield Scott Hancock, printed by Carter, Rice & Co. of Boston.  Collectively, they form a charming and unusual focus area for flag collectors. 

These rare cards and printed advertisements are increasingly difficult to find.  Many of them may well be unique, the last surviving example of their kind. They interesting because of their folky design. Their brief sales pitches, sometimes printed in a variety of font types and sizes, are curious and fun to read.  Ironically, the flag serves as a perfect medium for advertising.  After all, who would want to throw away an American flag?  Often, the writing on a card allows us to determine the precise location where a card originated, providing a fun geographic exercise as well. I will continue to add more cards to this page as they are found and added to the Rare Flags collection over time.

Crystal Palace American Fete, 1887

Printed in London in 1887, this fantastic example of flag overprint advertising invited Londoners to attend a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the American Constitution. It is a rare masterpiece example of 19th century overprinted flag advertising.

Hop Bitters, Circa 1880

These small paper flags were included along with sales of bottles of Hop Bitters, a medicinal concoction touted to be an effective remedy for a range of maladies and discomforts. Containing alcohol and botanicals, Bitters have been used since ancient times. The fantastic overprinted text on this flag is indicative of the advertising styles of the late 19th century, featuring a large variety of fonts, text sizes and styles.

Rausch's Cheap Ticket Office, c1880
Toledo, Ohio

Rausch offered discount tickets to Americans traveling west to the Northwest Territories during the 1880's.  Curiously, a search for Bridge Street in Toledo returns no results, though there is a Bridge Street located just outside of Toledo in the suburb neighborhood of Grand Rapids.


Salisbury Square Blanket, c1880
Providence, Rhode Island

Salisbury's, selling the best square blanket ever sold in Providence!  Salisbury's, was located at 45 Dorrance Street, Providence, Rhode Island.  A companion Hancock card from Salisbury's, with the same overprint, is in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American History and is featured on the Star Spangled Banner Project website as a demonstration of the type.

Click here to visit 15 Dorrance Street, Providence, Rhode Island on Google Maps

Gill's Art Store, c1880
Springfield, Massachusetts

J.D. Gill's Art Store and Art Gallery was located in Springfield, Massachusetts.  J.D. Gill grew his business from one of books and stationary to also include fine art.  Although I've been unable to determine the exact address in Springfield of the store's location, a photo of Gill's Art Store is pictured here.


Frank Cousins's Bee-Hive, c1880
Salem, Massachusetts

This rare pare of matched trade cards is from Frank Cousins's Bee-Hive, a general store located at 172 Essex Street, Salem, Massachusetts.  While single trade cards are rare themselves, this is the only pair of matching trade cards of the style that I've ever encountered.  Pictured here is Frank's Bee-Hive located at the corner of Essex Street and St. Peter Street in Salem.  Essex and St. Peters no longer intersect, the current location being near the current day Peabody Essex Museum.

Click here to visit 172 Essex Street, Salem, Massachusetts, on Google Maps

Will Lamson's John Street Store, c1880
Lowell, Massachusetts

Will Lamson apparently chose to only print his advertisement on the reverse of his cards.  His offerings are appropriately patriotic, selling celebratory campaign badges, candidate portraits, and fireworks.

Click here to visit 52 Merrimack Street, Lowell, Massachusetts, at the corner of Merrimack and John Street, on Google Maps

Montserrat Lime-Fruit Juice, c1880
Montserrat Company Ltd., Montserrat, Caribbean

Established by Joseph E. Sturge in 1869, Montserrat Company Ltd. was formed on the island of Montserrat to produce and export lime juice for use in the manufacture of citric acid. In the 1860's the British Government began replacing Mediterranean lemon juice with West Indian lime juice to combat scurvy aboard its vessels. Only later was it discovered that the lime juice was much less effective than lemon juice.1 The card's date circa 1880 makes it likely that it refers to the arctic expedition of the ill-fated USS Jeannette, which departed for the arctic in July, 1879, became trapped in arctic ice, and was crushed and sunk in June 1881.  References describe rations of lime juice being given to the crew of the Jeannette to ward of scurvy.2

Patented Campaign Banner, 1883

This very rare card has a patent date of September 4, 1883.  The card is a salesman's sample, with the reverse urging to place orders of these cards with your favorite candidate's portraits in the canton.  This card, clearly a demonstration card, shows George Washington's portrait in the canton surrounded by a full complement of 38 stars.

1 Scott and Scurvey
2 James M. Ambler


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