Becoming Smithsonian; Discovering Personal History

A Note to My Readers:  Victorian Advertising Cards. Chances are if your ancestor was a merchant during that period in history, they used this print method of advertising. My paternal great grandfather (Albert S. Martin) advertised his sewing machine business with several styles of this type of card.   I found one for sale on eBay and put in a bid to purchase it.  At a cost of a modest $5.99 plus shipping, it has taken its place in the family memorabilia.  Another set is archived in the Smithsonian.  Most of these cards were…in the parlance of advertising…a co-op item. Typically the manufacturer printed up thousands of them and the merchant bought them blank and had the back printed up by a local printer.  According to collectors some rare cards can be worth several thousand dollars.  

A S Martin Victorian Business Card FrontUp to this point I had only the digital images of scanned newspaper advertising -blurred and ‘muddy’ – to add to my research base and upon discovering the card set being archived at The Smithsonian, I kept an eye out just in case one might be ‘floating’ about some antiquarian or dealer’s hoard.  It was brought to my attention by someone on my hometown Facebook page that one was up for sale on eBay.  Quicker than a flash, I was on the site and put in a bid and held my breath for five days.  The email notice came in that I had won the bid.   I posted to my Facebook page that I was awaiting my treasure’s arrival with the hash-tag #dancing to the mailbox.    A S Martin Victorian Business Card Back

When it arrived, I was one happy genealogist.  The colors are bright and crisp and it appears the delicate paper has been stored carefully.

Out of curiosity I checked out other collectibles from my hometown area and found another piece available and put a bid of $3.00 in for it…again with bated breath awaiting for the bidding to close.  Once more I was a genealogist in waiting and for the next few days I was at the mailbox before the red, white and blue jeep could pull up.  It put me in mind of the childhood experience of sending away for a Captain Midnight secret decoder ring and the giddy sense of anticipation.

Trowbridge and Jennings 1876 Exhibition CardMy latest eBay treasure arrived in yesterday’s mail…an advertising piece for Trowbridge and Jennings of Auburn, New York. William H. Jennings is the brother of my great grandmother, Lillian W. Jennings Martin and her sister is Emily R. Jennings, wife of John J. Trowbridge. The brothers-in-law went into business with one another in 1869 when William was just 21 years old. William had opened an art store in Oswego when he was just 19 and when the partnership was formed, the pair moved the store to Auburn. They had great success and the business continued to operate and thrive until the death of John J. Trowbridge in 1926.

The photo on eBay was very low resolution and I couldn’t quite make out the detail…though it promised to be a beautiful piece. Inspecting it this morning, it is indeed a piece of art…and something more. It appears this might be part of the catalog and trading cards of the International Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1876.   There was nothing imprinted on the back as was the practice and that is a bit of mystery.

Fortunately for me, the Library Company of Philadelphia founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731 has a wonderful collection of Exhibition materials including the catalogs and loose advertising materials and that fact calls for a day trip in to the city for me to view the collection and speak with the librarians about reviewing the David Doret Collection. A grand research adventure to learn about the experience of two young men from Auburn, New York who participated in The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, the first official World’s Fair in the United States!

Under it’s official name – the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine, it attracted about 10 million visitors which was about 20% of the population of the United States at the time. Auburn was a growing city of over 18,000 souls. It must have been quite a heady experience for the two young men.

While a collector’s definition of treasure might be measured in dollars, my family finds have a different value scale for me as an historian and genealogist.  It is a sentimental bit of personal  family history and a priceless addition to my own Smithsonian effort.

Deborah Martin-Plugh
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

About these ads

One thought on “Becoming Smithsonian; Discovering Personal History

  1. I am so happy for your family treasures! I can only imagine the excitement that you felt. From one family historian to another… Congratulations+

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s