Articles About Trade Cards
Figural Cameos
by José L. Rodriguez

Some of my favorite cameos are those where the design is made to look like the product, profession or industry it advertises. These “figural” or “shaped” cameo designs are actually quite scarce. I have documented only 250 out of 5,500+ cameo designs known -- that’s less than 5% of the total.

In figural cameos, the advertising text is placed within a design that resembles the product it advertises. Examples of these would be padlocks, kegs, water pitchers, boots, books and many others. The most commonly found are books (opened or closed) for booksellers, publishers and stationers; padlocks, anvils, axes, saw blades and other tools for hardware merchants and agricultural implement dealers; mortar & pestles for druggists; water pitchers, soup tureens, etc. for china and queensware dealers; barrels and kegs for coopers, grain dealers, wine and liquor merchants, and the like; boots, shoes, shirts and such for clothing and footwear merchants; and cigar boxes, tobacco jars, etc. for tobacco related products.

The vast majority of cameos are not "figurals", but found in tightly framed cartouches. Most often these frames are scalloped but also come in shields, octagons and ovals. Sometimes the borders are decorated with garlands and other decorative elements. Once in a while elaborate rococo style cartouches are found as well as some rare types such as those with lacework borders.  Almost always the frames are symmetrical rather than free flowing. Text and graphics are encapsulated within these various frames and render a pleasing and colorful advertisement. In many ways, cameos resemble store shingles and wall plaques found on many storefronts and commercial buildings erected throughout the United States in the mid-19th century, when most commercial signage displayed text with decorative touches like curleques, stars, eagles, etc. Rarely were other graphics added. Sometimes the store shingle was a shaped sign like a boot, a pair of eyeglasses, a pocket watch, a pair of scissors, a mortar and pestle, a saw, or other product.

There are quite a few figural cameos known only by one or two examples. These “one-offs” are quite interesting and some are spectacular. Such designs include a stove, a safe, a ball of cheese, a headstone, a mackerel, an envelope, a bale of cotton, a pocket watch, a pipe fitting, a window curtain and an architectural carving.

Figural cameos not in my collection but known to me include a stovetop hat for a hatter, a whale for an sperm oil merchant, a medicine bottle for a patent medicine manufacturer and a wall map for a map seller.

Sixty examples of figural cameos are shown below arranged alphabetically. Scroll down to view them.

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