An 18th-century trade card reveals a lot more than its owner might have intended.
Imagine entering the shop of chymist (the word ‘chemist’ was not used until 1790) Richard Siddall as it appears on his trade card from around 1750. If the representation is at all accurate, it must have been an enticing experience, with its stuffed specimens hanging from the ceiling, mysterious potions cooking in a furnace and shelves lined with jars of exotic substances. Regardless of the authenticity of the depiction, unravelling its rich imagery reveals a lot about the origins of pharmacy.
Thanks to the burgeoning 18th-century print industry, traders like Siddall no longer had to rely on their street signs to attract customers. Small, portable graphic prints promoted their wares well beyond the high street. There are many examples of Siddall’s card in historic collections today, proof that it was widely distributed – and kept! Siddall passed his business and brand over to a Daniel Swann who, seeing no reason to change a good thing, simply replaced Siddall’s name with his own and continued using the same design for another 20 years.
Looking at the card more closely, rococo decorative flourishes dominate. This fashionable graphic style, characteristic of the 18th century, was first introduced by the French type founder Pierre-Simon Fournier (1712–1768). He pioneered not just the ‘type family’, a series of typefaces of the same design but with differing stroke weights, but also a wide range of decorative ornaments and florid fonts. The architectural features and swathes of the fringed curtain on the card, as well as the varying fonts, were all inspired by Fournier’s designs.