For those who admire images from the Victorian period, Arbuckle trade cards are a very appealing collectors' item. Originally developed as a publicity tool for Arbuckle Brothers Coffee Company in the late 19th century as a means of increasing coffee sales, these cards have become a highly collectible item in the 21st century.
About Arbuckle Coffee Company
Operated by brothers John and Charles Arbuckle, the Arbuckle Brothers Coffee Company was the world's largest importer and seller of coffee during the latter part of the 19th century and early into the 20th century. While the company's greatest accomplishment was perhaps the development of technology allowing sealed paper packages of coffee to be mass produced, what the organization is most recognized for today are its promotional trade cards.
Origins of Arbuckle Trade Cards
Even though the Arbuckle Brothers Coffee Company went out of business decades ago, the Arbuckle brothers were marketers ahead of their time. Arbuckle trade cards are an early example of a customer loyalty program. These cards were distributed exclusively as inserts inside packages of Arbuckle Brothers coffee.
Unless you purchased the company's coffee on an ongoing basis, there was no way for you to add cards to your collection. In order to encourage consumers to collect the trade cards, the cards were created in several different numbered series', effectively compelling collectors to purchase more coffee in order to complete their sets.
In order to assist collectors who received duplicate cards, the Arbuckle brothers suggested that customers trade cards with their neighbors and friends in order to get what they need to complete their sets, thus beginning the concept of trading cards.
Recognizing Arbuckle Collectible Cards
The Arbuckle cards were printed in a number of different designs. Each of the cards has a color lithograph image on one side. Images include depictions of animals, families, flowers, historical themes, humorous sketches, pictures of far away places, landscapes, maps, religious images, sports and pastimes, still-life scenes, and others.
The backs of the cards vary from one set of cards to the next, perhaps as a marketing strategy designed to build a sense of excitement about finding out what would be on the next card in the next package of coffee. Some of the backs are completely blank, like traditional postcards. Others have advertising slogans printed on them. Some of the cards even have Victorian era recipes on the back, which are now commemorated in the Arbuckle Trade Cards Victorian Cookbook published by Café Press.
To view specific examples of these Victorian trade cards, visit The Philadelphia Print Shop Limited's website, which features a comprehensive photo gallery of Arbuckle Bros. Coffee Company sports and pastimes trade cards.
Finding Arbuckle Cards for Your Collection
If you are interested in starting an Arbuckle collection or adding to your existing collection, eBay usually has an excellent selection of cards for sale on any given day. Local antique shops, flea markets, antique auctions, and estate sales can also be an excellent resource for locating these antique trade cards.
The Trade Card Place is an excellent resource for those who are interested in collecting Arbuckle cards, as well as other types of Victorian collectible cards. This website contains information about upcoming events of interest to collectors, books and articles specific to Victorian trade cards, and other relevant information and links. Additionally, The Trade Card Place holds monthly online auctions for those interested in adding to their collections.
Keeping Track of Your Collection
Finding new cards to add to your collection is an entertaining challenge, and viewing and displaying your collection can be highly enjoyable. However, keeping track of your inventory of cards can be quite another matter. If you are looking for a way to organize your collection of Arbuckle cards, be sure to check out My ArbyCards, a shareware database developed by avid Arbuckle collector Jeffry Buck. This inexpensive software application is a great way to simplify the process of keeping up with which cards you have and which ones to look for on your next trade card hunting expedition.