We have resumed some on-campus services, including book pickup, virtual consultations, and fulfilling scanning/digitization requests. Many library materials are available online, but our buildings remain closed until further notice.

Advertising Ephemera

Explore advertising and marketing material from the 19th and early 20th centuries—trade catalogs, trade cards, posters, and more
Lee & Shepard advertising poster HOLLIS record
Baker Library, Harvard Business School

Modern American advertising burst onto the economic and cultural landscape after the Civil War. Capitalizing on the growing industries of advertising and printing, companies with products to sell reached wholesalers, retailers, and home consumers through media of all shapes, sizes, colors, and imagery.

The emerging advertising profession represents a marketing revolution in which technology, creativity, and art were marshaled together to serve commercial ends. Our collections illustrate the role advertising played in marketing mass-produced products to the evolving American consumer culture and are an excellent resource to study representations of gender, race, and ethnicity during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 

The New Series 17 Studebaker Six-50 Four-40 Automobiles trade catalog
The New Series 17 Studebaker Six-50 Four-40 Automobiles trade catalog HOLLIS Record
Baker Library, Harvard Business School.

Trade Catalogs

Our rich and diversified collection of trade catalogs covers a wide array of subject areas, including:

  • Agriculture
  • Textile manufacturing
  • Hardware and machine tools
  • Railroads, automobiles, and aviation
  • Consumer products, household furnishings, and leisure goods
  • Scientific and optical instruments

They date from the early nineteenth century through the first half of the twentieth century, with the greatest concentration of materials falling between 1870 and 1900. There is a strong representation of New England industry and trade, particularly in eastern Massachusetts. A selection of catalogs are available online.

Trade Card Collection

Two hands, each holding five playing cards
Adams' Tutti Frutti Chewing Gum Trade Card HOLLIS Record
Baker Library, Harvard Business School.

We have more than 8,000 trade cards, over 1,100 of which are available online, representing the full range of products and businesses advertised through this medium from the 1870s through the 1890s.

The Bates trade card collection includes an additional 500 trade cards, primarily from companies in the Boston area. Both the Advertising Ephemera and Bates Collections include souvenir publications, almanacs, brochures, business cards, novelty items, scrapbooks, and advertising posters.

Clipper Ship Card Collection

Clipper ship cards were used to announce the sailing of clipper ships, and our advertising ephemera collection includes 283 of these cards, most of which are available online. Most of cards in our collection announce the departure of ships from Boston bound for San Francisco.

Poster for a print shop
Advertising poster, circa 1850. HOLLIS Record
Baker Library, Harvard Business School.

Advertising Posters Collection

Within the Advertising ephemera collection, is a discreet collection of nineteenth and early twentieth century American advertising posters and broadsides, most of which are available online.

This collection includes 37 Italian advertising posters from the 1950s, with advertisements for:

  • Olivetti typewriters
  • Singer Sewing Machines
  • Various food products
  • Travel

Related Materials

The Art of American Advertising, 1865-1910

Accessing These Materials

All materials are available for use in Baker Library's de Gaspé Beaubien Reading Room. Contact us to learn more about using the collections or obtaining reproductions.


Baker Library Special Collections