Using the Collection

Digitized items in the Patent Medicine Trade Card collection can be accessed through the UCLA Library Digital Collections platform.

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About the Collection

A collection of 247 patent medicine trade cards. Patent medicines were medical compounds sold under a variety of names and labels, and were for the most part actually trademarked, not patented. A trade card typically was a small, colorfully-illustrated advertisement promoting a particular remedy by name and listing the complaints it treated or even cured. The cards were freely available in the Victorian era from apothecaries and agents, and often ended up being pasted on pages alongside other color-lithographed illustrations and advertisement cards during family scrapbooking sessions. Cards with stock images, stamped with the name and seller of a medicine, contrasted with custom-designed cards that formed part of a company’s brand-identification campaign to develop a recognizable and memorable look. The era of patent medicines began to unravel in the U.S. with the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, when the requirement to correctly label the contents of a package or bottle revealed substances such as alcohol or opiates. Most of the cards in this collection advertised products to relieve pain, and comprise one facet of the John C. Liebeskind History of Pain Collection in UCLA Library Special Collections.

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