Cocoanut Metamorphic Trade Card

Visual Tales of Consumer Transformations

Everybody likes a good story.

Especially the kind of tale that delivers a happy ending.

Advertisers know this, so their most effective ads often tell the story of a good experience, a difficult life that is upgraded and improved through the purchase of a specific product and brand.


Metamorphic food card showing the happy transformation of "Senator Jones."
According to many Before and After trade card tales, a consumer (like the above “Senator Jones”) can be literally transformed from a state of frowns and frustrations to a place of bliss and grins… merely by purchasing the correct item.
With and Without card showing young people on a picnic cooking outdoors.
The “Problem to be Solved” in this picnic narrative was the fuss and bother of having to build and tend a wood fire for a hot drink. The solution, of course, was found through the purchase of a clean and modern new Florence oil stove.

During the 19th Century, it was hard to get any more dramatic and obvious in storytelling about improvements in a consumer’s life than can be found in what collectors now refer to as: “The Before and After Trade Card.”


The Before and After Trade Card Book by Ben Crane
The Before and After Trade Card Book by Ben Crane

For the story of cards telling tales of consumer breakthroughs and transformations –and for an illustrated review of many classic examples of these ads– the best resource is Ben Crane’s 1995 book:

The Before and After Trade Card.


Ben Crane's book, The Before and After Trade Card

 Crane’s study includes thoughtful discussions and helpful illustrations of Metamorphic and folding trade cards, “See-Through” Hold-to-Light cards (HTL), Turnover cards, Optical Illusion cards, Heat Sensitive cards, Then and Now, and others.


Ben Crane's book, The Before and After Trade Card


Over 80 metamorphic trade cards are shown (both opened and closed) in Ben Crane’s essential 19th Century Victorian Advertising Trade Card Resource. 


Henrys Carbolic Salve 1880's Pimple Cure Folding Metamorphic Novelty Victorian Trade Card

Numerous other types of  “problem solved” cards are shown as well.

Buckingham Whisker Dye Before and After Metamorphic Victorian Advertising Trade Card
The makers of Buckingham’s Whisker Dye used the folding flap on this card to suggest the magical transformation a white-bearded “BEFORE” gentleman into an improved youthful version through the application of the bottled product shown on the “AFTER” shelf.

With and Without cards, Paneled (and unpaneled) cards, Moving and Mechanical cards, Upside-Down cards (ambigrams), and even Before, During and After cards showing a progression of changes are all illustrated and discussed in Ben’s book.


BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER trade card images on a beard color trade card.
This Buckingham Whisker Dye card illustrates a gradual transition over the course of use, from BEFORE to DURING, and then eventually arriving at the desired final AFTER state.

Some of the transformations illustrated in these cards seem odd by today’s standards.

For example, in Victorian times, being “large” was often a sign of prosperity and good eating.

Mercantile Hotel Dining Rooms, Breakfast & Supper, 23 South Tenth St., Philadelphia
From skinny to rotund in 4 weeks, thanks to the fine dining rooms at the Mercantile Hotel.

Philadelphia’s Mercantile Hotel catered to 1876 Centennial guests, but they also stayed around long enough after the exposition to develop a regular local clientele who could buy “First Class Meals” for 25 cents.  To suggest the quality and quantity of their meals, they issued a card showing a very thin man growing fat on their fare in a single month.


Before and After cards offer some of the most fascinating views of Victorian life and fantasies imaginable.  No wonder these clever and promising 19th Century ads were so popular in their day.

And no wonder they remain so popular yet today.


 Stove Card Before and After Link to Victorian Card Hub Article Archive Story


Ben Crane was a founding member of the Trade Card Collectors Association, and he contributed an outstanding overview article to the TCCA’s very first journal, ATCQ, Spring, 1994.

A reprint of Ben’s article can be found via the above link.

For more about Ben, and to tap into the wonderful resources of his huge website, click on:


Link to Ben Crane's website: The Trade Card Place.


More examples and discussions of the 19th Century Before and After Trade Card will be shared in future Victorian Card Hub blogs, but the link to Ben’s ATCQ article will provide researchers and collectors a very good introduction to these types and styles of storytelling cards.

Again, Ben’s article can be found in the Victorian Card Hub archive. 

Visit:     The Victorian Before and After Trade Card 

And, as always, all the BEST to you…  Good Collecting! — Dave Cheadle

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