|Vose & Sons Pianos, Boston, MA|
In the late 1800s, the same advances in lithography that spurred sheet music sales also led to the proliferation of trade cards. Trade cards were a popular form of advertising in the Victorian era and are highly collectable; some trade cards are now worth thousands of dollars.
Improved printing techniques enabled advertisers to create cards that featured visually interesting, full-color images on the front and advertising content on the back. Advertisers counted on the novelty and beauty of the imagery to attract viewers, and consumers often collected trade cards the way that people now collect baseball cards.
Similarly, as music publishers adorned sheet music with increasingly ornate and detailed artwork, sheet music began to transcend its function as written music and become a collector's item. Music lovers in the 1800s often collected and displayed sheet music in the same way that record collectors do with the picture sleeves of phonograph records.
The heyday of trade cards, says Collectors Weekly, was from 1876 to the early 1900s, and businesses of all types produced them: bakeries, sewing supply businesses, soap makers, and livery stables. This is a music website, though, so today Music Weird presents a selection of trade cards from piano and organ manufacturers and sellers.
The popularity of pianos in the Victorian era dovetailed with the popularity of sheet music. As sheet music gave way to recorded music, pianos declined dramatically in sales. Player pianos—an early form of mechanical reproduction in music—declined even more dramatically in sales. From 1927 to 1932, player piano sales plummeted from 170,000 a year to only 2,700.
|Pease Piano Company, Cooperstown, NY|
|Mason & Hamlin Organ & Piano Co.|
|Melville Clark Piano Co., Chicago, IL|
|Hallet & Davis Pianos, Stony Point, NY|
|Estey Piano Co., New York, NY|
|Another Mason & Hamlin trade card|
|Sterling Co., Chicago, IL|
|Ivers & Pond Pianos|
|Blake's Great Piano Palace, Boston MA|
|House & Davis Piano Co., Chicago, IL|