Vegetable People

June 2017

In the 1870’s American manufacturers were a long step ahead of the American advertising industry. They were producing goods on a nationwide scale, but there was no national publication in which they could hawk their products. The ingenious solution to this problem was the trade card [see “Trade Cards,” AMERICAN HERITAGE , February, 1967]. With a picture on one side and some persuasive copy on the other, these cards were slipped into packages, handed out in retail stores, and mailed to customers. Their bright, ingenuous designs made them sought after by a generation of Americans, who collected them, swapped them, and eventually enshrined them in albums. The examples on these pages are from an album kept by the parents and grandparents of Professor Albert Castel, a contributor to this magazine. Fanciful even by trade-card standards, these anthropomorphic vegetables advertised a fertilizer called Buckeye Phosphate. All of them are accompanied by egregious verse, as shown beneath the raffish carrot at the left. There do seem to be inequities in this vegetable world; despite his elegant pose, the carrot is really rather shabbily dressed in comparison with Mulvina Pea’s companion, and the turnip and potato look downright indigent. But they should not despair, for at the price these vegetables fetch today, there is no reason why the demure squash could not afford to dress as splendidly as the ravishing Miss Cabbage.