Old Advertising Images from Postal Items (1)

advertising image for a cement company on an envelope

As soon as envelopes were used for sending business letters and advertisements in the mid-19th century, it was quickly realized that the envelope (cover) itself could be an advertisement; the potential customer could be influenced before they even tore open the envelope. Even if someone did not see the contents, they saw the logo and image.

When postal cards were created later in that century, businesses found them very useful for advertisements (and they only cost a penny). The images on postal items from around the turn of the 20th century are very collectable. I hope that this group (1 of 4) of such images provides a window into those times far gone. Many of the advertising images are examples of the finest art of the engraver and illustrator.

If you are interested in collecting advertising covers, be sure to check out Jim Forte's postal history search page. Just search for 'advertising'.

(Legal Stuff) These images are provided for educational and research purposes ONLY. If you use them for anything commercial, you are on your own. Some of the images here, although scanned from items over 100 years old, may STILL be COPYRIGHT or TRADEMARK for the companies that use them. In some cases, the companies may STILL be using them in 2020. You have been warned.


All-Over Advertisement for Hand Stamps -- This is quite the envelope. The sender is a company that made handstamps (probably all rubber stamps) in a great variety. The device images fill as much of the cover as possible. Based on the stamp used, this cover was mailed in the 1900 time period.

The company was the A. C. Gibson company of Buffalo, New York, which appears to still be in business.

The machine 2nd from the left on the lowest row was designed to cancel railroad tickets. Impressions of this device can be found from time to time on official railroad mail items. This technology was enhanced, using a lever system, to be used as an cancellation device for postal items. It was sold as the Perfection machine.

Early Advertising Image from the 1860's -- This is an example of one of the earliest types of advertising covers used in the United States. The cover appears to be used in the mid 1860's. The envelope is yellow and the advertising cornercard is a "shield" design.

You can contrast this design with the far more elaborate full color, or finely engraved advertising images shown elsewhere on this website. Collectors of U. S. Civil War patriotic covers admire the beautiful color printing used on those items, but the advertising covers I've seen from that era are of this more simple design.

Note that this cover is from a garment wholesaler. It appears that New York was in the 'rag trade' far back in the 19th Century.

Acorn-Shaped Logo from Late 19th Century Advertising Cover -- This logo intrigued me as soon as I first saw it. It advertises the Chicago Paper Company, but there is no other information on the cover.

The cover dates from the 1890's.

Advertisement Showing an Anvil -- This is the image of the return address portion of an illustrated cover from a hardware wholesaler. The pretty green engraving of an anvil is part of the advertisement, as well as being used as the background for the name and address of the company (Bostwick Braun, Toledo, Ohio). This cover dates from the 1890's.

Advertising Logo in the Shape of the Number 269 -- This is a very unusual logo. It is from a cover dated in the 1870's, which makes it an earlier example of an advertising cover. The company, which sold picture frames and mirrors, used its address as the logo. If you snake through all of the image, you get quite a lot of information.

This design is more interesting to me, than a simple set of lines of text, as is typical of many advertising covers and logos.

Rubber Stamp Return Address for B and O Railroad -- This is the image of the return address portion of a railroad business cover from the 1910's period. Given the design, I believe that this qualifies as an advertising image.

The illustration is particularly interesting, since it appears that the cornercard was impressed by a rubber stamp, rather than the fine quality printing one usually sees on advertising envelopes.

Engraved Cornercard Illustration of a Boiler Factory -- This is the image of the return address portion of a cover from a boiler factory. It dates from the 1890's. There are many old jokes about boiler factories, primarily due to the level of noise coming out of them. In fact, in the age of steam, boilers were of primary importance, and any town with some amount of industry had its boiler works.

Printers often had "generic" images (called "cuts") of factories, buildings, or businesses, that they could customize for a buyer. This appears to be a custom job specific to a boiler works, since there are several boilers sitting outside the factory.

The company appears to be the 'Central Boilerworks of T. McGregor'.

Nice Illustrated Cover from a Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Dealer -- I purchased this cover, because I was collecting Orange County, California, postal history back in the day. The added 'bonus' is that this cover shows a particularly nice motorcycle illustration for the Harley-Davidson company.

Interesting Logo from an Advertising Cover from a Cement Company -- This image is scanned from the return address side of a cover mailed near the turn of the 20th century. The design is striking, using mostly blue to convey a quite 'classical' image. The cement is 'Medusa Brand' made in Sandusky, Ohio.

Illustration from an Advertising Cover for a Combination Toolkit -- This image was scanned from an advertising cover mailed in 1898. The cover contains many other illustrations, being almost a complete catalog of useful items. However, this particular item intrigued me. The company is offering a toolkit that seems to have everything.

The Combination Family Cobbler, Tinker and Harness Mender, A Complete Outfit for General Shoe, Harness and Tin Ware Repairing is ready to help anyone repair many important items around the house or farm.

I expect that people living on farms in the 1890's had to perform all of their own repairs, as it was usually a very long and slow ride to town. What I do know is that the situation is still pretty true today in rural areas, where self-sufficiency is often both a necessity, and a source of personal pride.

Early Advertisment for Christmas Cards -- I was attracted to this item because of the very nice engraved image of the child. Then I saw that the image was part of an advertisement for a stationery company in Boston that sold Christmas cards.

What is more interesting yet is the fact that this cover dates from 1888, which I first thought might be an early usage of these cards.

After this era, during the 'postcard craze' around the turn of the 20th century, there were millions of holiday cards printed and mailed.

This Wikipedia article about Christmas cards offers a more complete history of the Christmas Card, noting that the first commercial card sold in the United States was seen in 1874.

Plow Company Advertising -- This is the image of the return address portion of a cover from a farm implement company, the David Bradley Co. of Bradley, Illinois. It dates from around 1900. I like it for the nice illustration of a plow. Notice that the logo also has a leather belt with buckle surrounding the image. This is a design element that I had seen before, used for an electrical equipment company logo.

Owl Engraving -- This little owl, standing on the sliver of a moon is a bit of a mystery. The cover has no other identification, and there wasn't any enclosure. Only the letters 'W. S. L. R.' appear. This dates from around 1900.

Railroad Business Cover Section -- This scan shows the top part of a railroad business cover. The railroads could carry their own mail, but they had to pay the same first class postage as anyone else. They cancelled the stamp with their ticket dating device (see handstamps.) Note the wording on the cover forbidding placement into the U. S. mail stream.

Logo of 'Anchor Electric' -- This is the image of the return address portion of a cover from the so-named electrical company. This logo has a leather belt as part of the design, similar to the one for plow company.

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Updated 7/22/20, 2:41 PM