Oysters- wet, maybe a little mucosal- don't seem like exactly the most appetizing food to promote, right? Au contraire! Oyster packers and the lithographers working for them during Baltimore's golden era of oystering came up with endlessly creative solutions to solve the oyster's little 'image problem.' From humorous cartoons like the snooty oyster bar patron on Grebb's trade card above, to beautiful ladies, babies and puppies, pretty much any strategy was used to move Baltimore oysters.
These trade cards were used like a combination of a modern business card and a flyer. Used by tradesmen, they were handed out widely to restaurants, grocers, and oyster bars as a way to promote their brands. Usually, the reverse side would have particulars about the cost of oysters in bulk or the name and contact information of the brand representative.
Oyster packers had more than one kind of oysters to sell- steamed (bulk), canned, or oysters in the shell. Often, processors switched to packing fruits or vegetables in the summer when oysters were out of season, so Louis Grebb is offering both.
These oyster trade cards utilized the new printing technique of lithography, and evolved at the same time as their far more famous relative, baseball trade cards. Several lithography firms were working in Baltimore by this era, the most famous of which was A. Hoen and Company- a lithographer that printed maps, tobacco labels, sheet music, posters, and oyster trade cards during the end of the the 19th century. A. Hoen's lithographic style, and that of many of their competitors, was greatly influenced by the style of political or satirical cartoons popular in magazines during the late 19th century. However, that meant that often oyster trade cards included imagery considered humorous by the Victorians that today reads as inappropriate or just racist.
Like oyster cans, brightly printed, lively trade cards are highly collectible today. Fans value their whimsical graphics but also their glimpse into a part of the Chesapeake's bygone Oyster Boom, when a bushel of oysters cost $3, the Bay's seemingly endless oyster bounty supportedalmost 20% of the city's population, and the wonders of marketing were transforming oysters from quotidian part of the diet to Chesapeake brain food.