These days anyone in any sort of business knows the advantage and efficiency an attractive and well-worded business card can provide. These small embossed pieces of card stock are a relatively inexpensive and quick way to get the word out about the services one offers. Tucked away in a potential customer’s wallet or kitchen drawer they offer a chance of repeat customers or of custom from someone who discovers themselves in need of a particular service.
Brilliant idea, right? But where did the idea come from? We will likely never know precisely, but here are some things about early business cards in England, or rather trade cards, as they were more frequently called, that we do know. Their history is quite fascinating and presents a microcosm of the development of business and trade in the British Isles.
Trade cards first came into current use after 1700. There are a few examples from as early as 1630, but their consistent use is not documented until after 1700. They were originally sheets of paper ranging up to folio size. They were called by a variety of names – tradesmen’s cards, tradesmen’s bills or shopkeepers’ bills. By the nineteenth century, with the advent of so many printing techniques they ranged from calling card size to highly colored handbills known as counter cards.
The cards of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries featured some aesthetic qualities to rival and even surpass those of today. They reflect the skills of artisans through two centuries. The lettering is well-drawn and spaced with machine-like precision. The designs and devices that appear on the cards are direct and eye-catching. These early cards belonged primarily to those in professions or those of the merchant class. Their designs were created to appeal to the educated classes.
Many of the early trading cards show the influence of Thomas Chippendale, especially his work in the popular Chinese style. This was especially true once the public menace of ornate hanging signs to denote a business location was replaced with the street numbering of addresses around the year 1762. The focus of the cards also changed. The script of the cards came to include the type of goods advertised and directions to the establishment.
Richard Severn, Jeweller and Toyman
The corner of Paul’s Grove-Head-Court
near Temple Barr, London
John Suffield was an engraver and desiger of lettering, although he was also known through his signed metal work and made a medal commemorating the election of Sir Charles Cockerell to Evesham in 1819. Suffield is also listed in the 1817 Johnstone’s London Commercial Giude, and Street Directory.
Trade Card for R. Ackermann, Printseller and Art Dealer
For those who want to learn more on this intriguing subject I suggest the book:
London Tradesmen’s Cards of the Eighteenth Century by Ambrose Heal.
If you are interested in the role trade cards have played in discovering the role of women in business in 18th and 19th century England, stay tuned. I will be adding a post dedicated to that subject quite soon!
I spent the three best years of my childhood in a little village in Suffolk – Kelsale – where I learned to ride and, more important, how not to ride. One of my prized possessions from those years is a little book of young rider themed cartoons entitled Angels on Horseback by the English cartoonist, Norman Thelwell.
His work pokes fun in a harmless and hilarious way at the efforts of young equestrians to meet the expectations of their pushy horsey parents and their tyrannical riding instructors.
There is an entire series of books of Thelwell’s horsey themed cartoons. Fifty years later I still find them amusing and, in many cases, far too accurate for comfort when it comes to my own early riding adventures.
Perhaps that is why I am such a fan of the work of Regency era artist and caricaturist, Henry Alken (1785-1851.) The great majority of his work depicts various sporting activities associated with horses, horsemen, the hunt, and horse racing. His serious work is elegant, polished, and includes little details that make it impossible to view a piece without finding something new and intriguing at each viewing.
However, it seems Mr. Alken had a sense of humor similar to that of Mr. Thelwell. Between 1780 and 1840, the material and style of clothing worn by those riding to hounds was transformed from the rough and billowy style of the country squire to the sculpted, flattering, and stylish fashions preferred by the young men of Town who sought to join the hunt in order to prove their masculinity and physical prowess. For these young urban Corinthians appearances, style, and the show of an athletic physique were paramount. For many, horsemanship came second.
There were a number of names given to these young toffs. The most prominent, however, was that of Meltonian. This is the term Henry Alken used to describe the riders in his humorous prints of the hunt. The name is derived from the town of Melton Mowbray in Leceistershire, a popular place for young Corinthians to gather and ride to hounds. Getting out of Town and spending time in the country engaged in hunting and shooting was a vital part of a young gentleman’s social life. I’ll do a longer post on the Meltonians soon as they definitely deserve a closer look.
However, Henry Alken’s prints concerning the Meltonian set leave his opinion of these gentlemen sportsmen in no doubt. In fact he did an entire series of prints entitled How to be a Meltonian.
I hope you have enjoyed a brief look at Henry Alken’s humorous prints. And I wonder, am I the only one who sees the similarity in vision between his work and that of Thelwell? Either way, both artists present views on horses and horsemanship that both entertain and delight.
Part Three of this post will take a look at Alken’s more serious prints. Stay tuned!
A fellow author recently told me about a review of one of her Regency historical romances in which the reader objected to the heroine being in possession of her own fortune and business. As March is Women’s History Month, I thought it appropriate to blog about a woman who not only owned her own business, but was considered a leader in her field even by the rather chauvinistic men of her era.
Eleanor Coade was born in June of 1733 in Exeter. Her father was a wool merchant. The family moved to London in 1759 after Eleanor’s father’s business went bankrupt. Eleanor set up a linen and drapery business not long after they arrived in London. Here is where she gained her first experience and knowledge as to how to run a business. After her father’s death in 1769 Eleanor went to work setting up her own stone factory at King’s Arms Stairs, Narrow Wall, in the Lambeth area of London.
The source of her funding for opening and operating such an endeavor is not well-known. However, as her family were dissenters-Protestants who did not adhere to the tenets of the Church of England – it is believe the money came from a combination of her linen and drapery business and investments from other dissenters. These sorts of investments were common in an age when many dissenters were shunned for their religious beliefs. However, as a woman Eleanor must have been incredibly professional and persuasive to gain the sort of investors it likely took to found such an expensive concern.
A number of factors came together to make Eleanor Coade the right person in the right business at the right time. She was sharp enough and insightful enough to know that and to take advantage of the situation. The local Building Act of 1774 banned all but the absolute necessary use of wood in building due to the fire hazard wood presented. Stone became the preferred high status building material of choice in spite of its expense, labor intensity, and the taxes involved.
Eleanor Coade’s artificial stone made from a ceramic process came along at the perfect time. Because of its malleability, it became the most used material when it came to creating stunning architectural embellishments for beautiful exteriors and interiors. Throughout the first half of the eighteenth century many different kinds of artificial stone had been created to serve this purpose. Most of these, however, failed the tests of the elements or where inferior to the task of producing detailed stonework.
The material produced at Mrs. Coade’s Lambeth facility was workable enough to create details as fine as those by French and Italian artisans working in actual stone. It shrank very little in the firing process and best of all the color mimicked that of actual stone. Under her direction, her factory produced a kiln-fired ceramic made of a somewhat secret formula of clay, grog, flint, sand, and glass. It could be cast in molds and was impervious to weather and the attachment of lichens and other discoloring agents.
In a clever PR move Eleanor hired celebrated sculptor John Bacon (1777-1859) and showcased his classically Greek pieces in a showroom in London. Coade stone was in demand by architects like John Nash, Robert Adam, and John Soane to name a few. Pieces from her factory graced the finest homes in England and her factory even produced pieces for King George III and the Prince of Wales aka Prinny.
Though Eleanor used the name Mrs Coade, she never married. Unmarried women in business at this time adopted the title Mrs. as a sort of protection and mark of respectablity. Apart from the 14 years from 1799 when she was in partnership with her cousin, John Sealy, she remained in sole charge of the business. In 1799 the company opened a spacious showroom, Coade’s Gallery, near the south end of Westminster Bridge to better display their wares.
In later life Eleanor Coade was an active philanthropist, helping those in need – usually women in difficult circumstances. The bequests she left to three married women in her will stated that none of their husband’s were to have access to the funds, despite her actions not being supported in law at the time.
Sealy died in 1813, and the firm continued to flourish until Eleanor’s death in 1821, aged 88. On her death her manager, William Croggon, a distant relation, bought the factory, and Coade stone remained in use for at least a decade before the firm eventually closed in the 1840s.
All her life she protected the ‘secret’ of her stone’s success. It was said its recipe went to the grave with her. However, recently Coadestone, a phenomenon of the Regency, had its recipe rediscovered and today a range of Coade sculpture can be found at new workshops in Wilton. The formula she used was: 10% grog, 5-10% of crushed flint, 5-10% fine quartz, 10% crushed soda lime glass and 60-70% of Ball clay which came from Dorset and Devon.
Her business acumen was so greatly admired that her obituary noticed appeared in The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 91, December 1821.
November 18th at Camberwell in her 89th year, Mrs. Eleanor Coade, sole inventor and proprietor of an art which deserves considerable notice. In 1769 a burnt artificial stone manufactory was erected by Mrs. Coade at King’s Arms Stairs, Narrow Wall, Lambeth. This manufactory has been carried on from that time to the present on a very extensive scale, being a property peculiar to itself of resisting the frost and consequently of retaining that sharpness in which it excels every kind of stone sculpture and even equals marble itself.
At the height of her success, Eleanor Coade bought her uncle’s house in Lyme Regis as her personal retreat and holiday home. Many of the stone accents and features are made of Coade stone. The author John Fowles, who bought Belmont House in 1968 and lived there until his death, described her as ‘that very rare thing, both an artist and a successful early woman industrialist’.
The National Trust presents Calke Abbey as an illustration of the English country house in decline. Displays show how house was left when abandoned in the 1920’s and the NT refers to the property as an “unstately home.”
From Wikipedia: “Set in the midst of a landscape park, the National Trust presented Calke Abbey as an illustration of the English country house in decline. A massive amount of remedial work but no restoration has been done and interiors are almost as they were found in 1985 so the decay of the building and its interiors has been halted but not reversed. Before the National Trust work of the late 1980s everything had remained untouched since the 1880s. The Trust manages the surrounding landscape park with an eye to nature conservation. It contains such features as a walled garden, with a flower garden and a former physic garden, now managed as a kitchen garden. Some years after Calke was handed over to the National Trust to settle death duties, an heir was discovered: Andrew Johnson, a distant cousin of the Harpur family. Johnson was a wealthy resident of Vermont and the owner of important stands of timber and of a lumber business, though the popular press in Britain referred to him as a `lumberjack.’ Johnson was given the use of an apartment in the Abbey, which he and his family have used on occasional visits.”
And from The History of the County of Derby, Part 2 (1829) by Stephen Glover: “In this house, although it has never yet been put up, either for use or ornament, is, perhaps, one of the most splendid state beds in the kingdom, presented, on the occasion of her marriage,-by ” Caroline,” queen of George the Second, to Lady Caroline Manners (afterwards Harpur) as one of her bridemaids. This now beautiful seat was, in the memory of persons n6w living, one of the plainest and least ornamental, it is said, almost desolate and ugly, places in the county. The present improvements were all planned and executed by the late Sir Henry Crewe, bart. who devoted a life of retirement to this purpose, affording thereby, for many years, ample employment to the workmen and labourers of the surrounding neighbourhood. The house being ill supplied with water, Sir Henry Crewe, at a great expense, brought it from an excellent spring beyond Ticknall, about a mile and a half, to a covered reservoir in the park, from whence the stables, house, gardens, and dairy, are now fully and amply supplied. The style of architecture is Ionic, highly enriched, with fluted pilasters between the windows, and an elegant balustrade round the whole building, within which is a flat roof covered with lead. The stables are excellent, and stand on an elevated site to the north of the house.”
All of this sounds vastly intriguing and Victoria and I are loathe to admit that neither of us has yet visited Calke Abbey. Have you? If so, please share your visit with us. And in the meantime, Victoria and I have yet another stop to put on a future itinerary.
From The Book of Fashionable Life by A Member of the Royal Household (London, n.d.)
TO BE OBSERVED AT
HER MAJESTY’S DRAWING ROOMS.
All ladies attending Her Majesty’s Drawing Rooms are requested to bring with them two cards, with their names legibly written thereon—one to be left with the Queen’s page in attendance in the Presence Chamber, and the other to be delivered to the Lord in Waiting, who will announce the name to Her Majesty. And those ladies who are to be presented are informed, that it is absolutely necessary that their names, together with the names of the ladies who are to present them, should be sent into the Lord Chamberlain’s Office two clear days before the Drawing Room, in order that they may be submitted for the Queen’s approbation, it being Her Majesty’s command that no presentation shall take place, unless the name of the lady presenting, together with that of the lady to be presented, shall appear on the card delivered as before directed, corresponding with the names sent into the Lord
Chamberlain’s Office; and it is especially requisite that the Ladies who present others, should be actually present at the Drawing Room. One card must be left with the Queen’s Page, in the Presence Chamber, and another be delivered to the Lord-in-Waiting, who will present the Lady to the Queen.
At a Birthday Drawing Room, no presentations take place; but, nevertheless, each Lady and Gentleman, who proposes to attend, should send a card to the Queen’s Lord Chamberlain a few days before the holding of the Drawing Room Afterwards, when you attend, take care that your carriage arrive at the Palace before two o’clock. You should be provided with two cards, to be delivered as before mentioned, one to the Queen’s Page in the Presence Chamber. Afterwards you enter Queen Anne’s Chamber, where you wait until the door is opened at the end of the room, looking down from the fire-place. You should enter within the rails near the fire-place, and go in procession to the Anti-Drawing Room. Ladies carry their trains on the left arm until they come near to Her Majesty, when the train is dropped, a card delivered to the Lord-in-Wailing, who will announce the Lady’s tide or name, when she makes a graceful courtesy to Her Majesty, and then retires. The Ladies who attend Drawing Rooms will be pleased to observe that there is an established regulation with regard to their dresses. Court Etiquette requires that they should not appear in hats and feathers, or turbans and feathers, but in feathers and lappets, in conformity with the established orders.
It must be particularly observed, that no persons are permitted to remain in the Throne Room, having passed Her Majesty at the Drawing Room, but the Ministers and their ladies, the great Officers of the Household and their ladies, the Foreign Ministers and their ladies, and the Officers of the Household upon duty.