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Trade cards

This exhibition of the ephemera of trade in the British Isles from 1654 to the 1860s draws primarily on the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera in the Bodleian Library. Trade cards and bill headings, in spite their small format, contain a wealth of information both in their textual and iconographic content.

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About About the Collection The John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera offers a fresh view of British history through primary, uninterpreted printed documents which, produced for short-term use, have survived by chance. The Collection is strongest in the 18th to early 20th centuries but also contains earlier documents. Physically arranged in some 700 subject headings, it is searchable in myriad ways through detailed cataloguing, selective OCR and digitisation. The John Johnson Collection is one of the Special Collections of the Bodleian Library and it is part of the department of Rare Books and Printed Ephemera .

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Patent medicine is the term given to various medical compounds sold under a variety of names and labels, though they were for the most part actually trademarked medicines, not patented. In ancient times, such medicine was called nostrum remedium, "our remedy" in Latin, hence the name "nostrum"; it is a medicine whose efficacy is questionable and whose ingredients are usually kept secret.

The trade cards are small, colorfully illustrated advertising cards touting a particular medicine and its many cures. The illustrations often have little to do with any of the ailments purported to be cured. They were pure advertising and very collectible. The era of patent medicine began to unravel in the U.S. with the passage of the first Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.

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