Source Material: Trade Cards

About a week ago, I experienced research serendipity: while sitting in front of my computer in Sweden, searching the archives of Baker Business Library at Harvard University, I came across this little number:

Two women from Dalarna, from a Singer Manufacturing Co. trade card, 1892. From the Baker Business Library at Harvard University. Photo: uncredited.

I was looking for Boston dressmakers and tailors in business in the 1890s (harder than you’d think), and this popped up! My unofficial interest sneaking into my “official” research.

I’d know that dress anywhere: she is a woman in traditional folk dress (folkdräkt in Swedish) from the town of Rättvik, in Dalarna county, Sweden. This place is close to my heart and the dress is familiar to my eye, since my boyfriend’s family comes from the neighboring town of Boda. Dalarna is also famous for a lot of non-Ikea Swedish things you’ve heard of:


Dalahäst (Dalecarlian Horse) from 90-year-old Dalarna company Grannas. From Grannas' website. Photo: uncredited.


Knäckebröd, or "really huge round cracker" as they are called in English. Here with the very Swedish topping of eggs, red onion, and Kalles Kaviar. From the Leksands Bakery website. Photo: uncredited.

And now: Rättvikdräkt!

What is interesting to me is that this sweet girl, in this same traditional dress, is always the visual chosen to represent the region of Dalarna, although each of the small towns has its own very specific system of folkdräkt. For example, see this tablecloth I picked up at a second-hand store:

Traditional folk dress from "Dalarna" (more precisely, Rättvik, in Dalarna) from a tablecloth. Other counties are represented similarly. c. 1940-60. From author's personal collection. Photo: Arianna E. Funk

Definitely a fun 1940s/-50s take on the same outfit!

On the Singer card, she also represents all of Sweden. Like the Dalahäst.

Here’s another example of of a Singer trade card from the Baker collection:

Trade Card for Singer Manufacturing Co., 1892. From Baker Business Library at Harvard University.

These guys are described on the back of the card as being from the “Extensive Empire of the British Crown “. Interestingly, cards featuring women show them in the act of sewing, or at least with a project in progress. These guys, on the other hand, are “native employees” of Singer in India in their “usual costume”.

I just love finding new sources. Trade cards are hardly a stretch as a costume source, but it was certainly a treat and a surprise to see her peeking out among the Corsets and the Emporiums and the Gentleman’s Hats. I especially appreciate any glimpses into the history of the history and documentation of costume.

Have you found any surprising or unexpected sources recently? Share them below!

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  • Elaura October 14, 2013 09.39 pm

    Hi there- I’m doing some research on the Singer trade cards and found your post helpful. Would you mind sharing some of your sources?

  • Arianna October 16, 2013 05.57 am

    Hey Elaura! I was actually looking for something totally different–Boston/Jamaica Plain dressmakers in the late nineteenth century–so I’m afraid I don’t have any other good leads! The Baker Business Library at Harvard seemed to have more than one of these cards, so that would be a good place to start…..I bet the business branches of the NYPL and other big city libraries would also have good trade card resources.

    Good luck! Sounds like interesting research.


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