Victorian frog illustrations emblazoned everything from books to ephemera to home décor through the 19th century. Granted, some people loathed the slimy creatures in real life. Even those could appreciate the anthropomorphized amphibians. Victorian frog illustrations became so popular, they could be found on trade cards for scores of products and services.
The Short But Happy Life Of Trade Cards—1870s-1900
With new technologies fueling industrialization, factories pumped out large volumes of items. Products were generally lower quality, but also within reach of the growing middle class. There was also more variety than ever before. Clothing and other items were eventually mass-produced so people could afford to own several of each item.
The increasingly competitive marketplace created a need to entice consumers. According to Cornell.edu–Trade Cards, An Illustrated History:
“Among the more interesting advertising strategies were trade cards—small pasteboard cards colorfully printed with a company’s name, address, and an eye-catching image to stick in the customer’s mind.”
Victorian Frog Illustrations were one of the most popular designs.
Most cards measured approximately 3½ x 4½ inches. Some were die-cut shapes and some had movable parts. Initially all printing was in black and white. But new technology allowed advertisers to mass-produce colored prints quickly and cheaply. Enterprising German immigrant Louis Prang blazed trails in the field of printing.
“…in 1873, for an exhibition at the Vienna International Exposition, Prang created a full-color printed advertising trade card that won a prize. When he returned to the United States, he began printing a variety of these color-lithographed items.”
The cards often featured blank areas on the front or back, allowing advertisers to insert sales copy. Traveling salesmen used them for orders as well. Hence, one design could be used for numerous businesses or services. Celebrities were often used to represent products or companies, much as they are today. Consider them early influencers.
“Over time, larger businesses began to commission exclusive designs with artwork relating specifically to their products or services.”
New technologies in printing emerged. By 1900, advertisers could buy large-scale color printing in magazines and other publications. As color became commonplace, the novelty of trade cards inevitably faded.
Victorians Loved Their Scrapbooks
Because Victorians were avid scrap bookers, many of these trade cards are well preserved. Social and cultural history is reflected in the assortments of ephemera and photographs found in these collections.
Trade cards were coveted items. Many collectors posted their cards in themed groups, much like people do today on social media platforms. And yes, Victorian frog illustrations were among the favorite themes.
Slime Aside, Frogs Offer Springtime Symbols Of Rebirth
Why frogs? Yes, they slither and leap unexpectedly. They are covered in mucus and some have wart-like bumps. But with nearly 6,500 species of frogs and toads worldwide, they offer a bonanza of color, design and movement to artists in all genres
The word “amphibian” comes from a Greek word that means “both lives” because they begin as tadpoles in water then transform into land dwellers. This nearly magical metamorphosis inspired stories of fertility, regeneration, and rebirth. In short, they became symbols of hope and new beginnings in countless cultures.
It’s no surprise that frogs have appeared in literature and imagery through the centuries and across the globe. From ancient myths and fables to the Frog Prince and Kermit, frogs are fun and compelling. That’s exactly what advertisers were looking for when they printed Victorian Frog illustrations on trade cards.
A Side Note About Evil Frogs On Greeting Cards
Evil Victorian Frog Illustrations were also popular, although not on trade cards that, for the most part, delivered upbeat messages. Victorian Era greeting cards often delivered dark humor. After all, nothing says Happy Holidays like a frog stabbing a fellow frog and escaping with what looks like a bag of loot. Or frogs playing instruments, with one carrying a sign that reads Hurrah for Sanity.
How did frogs become the subject of this dark humor?
Some legends portray the toad is a trickster or a magician who could master spells, good and bad. And it’s easy to imagine the Victorians associating frogs with sin and licentiousness given their fertility.
According to author Jack Tresidder in The Complete Dictionary of Symbols, frogs and toads are considered:
“…a loathsome familiar of witches, suggestive of death and the torments of the damned—a demonic symbolism.”
Sometimes it takes only a few poisonous family members to spoil the reputation of an entire species.
Racing Nellie Bly
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Know The Past To Invent The Future