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Chromolithograph card of a group of people from "Zululand," (South Africa) 1892 WHI Image ID 57787
A chromolithograph card of a group of people from "Zululand," 1892 WHI 57787

Singer Advertising Card Collection

This collection of 50 chromolithograph cards depicts people from around the world, dressed in traditional clothing and posing with Singer sewing machines. The images, combined with the accompanying text, provide perspective on popular representations of race and ethnicity during the rise of industrialization and consumer culture.

Singer Manufacturing Company Advertising Cards

A Chromolithograph card of a woman from Boulogne-sur-mer, France in "native" costume, posing near a Singer sewing machine
A card typical of the Singer
advertising card collection
WHI 57867

The sewing machine producers, Singer Manufacturing Company, made these chromolithographic advertising cards in the 1890s. Each card features people from a different country dressed in traditional clothing and posing with Singer sewing machines. The rich color and high level of detail in the chromolithographs make these images enduringly engaging while the accompanying text provides insight into contemporary discourses on race, ethnicity, consumerism and industrialization.

'Costumes of All Nations'

Two groups of advertising cards are included in the gallery. One features a multicolor pastel background that resembles a watercolor wash. Singer produced these cards as a set for the World's Fair of 1893 held in Chicago, Illinois. Entitled "Costumes of All Nations," the set's packaging copy stresses the authenticity of the images as "reliable and perfect in every detail." The backs of the cards include information about the countries and characteristics of the people in the region described in anthropological and racial terms common at the time.

The second and smaller group of images strongly resembles the other set but they have a more rounded vignette appearance and feature backgrounds of blue or green. These cards are slightly larger and have more extensive advertising copy on the back including Singer slogans. Most of them proclaim, "Singer Stores in Every City." Unlike the "Costumes of All Nations" set, this set notably includes a card for the United States.

Chromolithography, Singer and Progress Narratives

Color lithographs are produced using a chemical process rather than relief or intaglio to control the placement of the ink on the plate. A separate plate is used for each color, creating a rich color experience. Offset printing eventually replaced the technique because of its lower cost but lithography is still in use today for fine-art prints.

Both sets of Singer advertising cards feature lovely lithographic detail. Ornate filigree patterns decorating the sewing machines and the swirling metal work of the table supports stand out elegantly and crisply. The technique also richly portrays colors, patterns, textures and construction details of the various clothing styles. Because the plates for the cards were made from photos, the images also hauntingly combine simultaneous impressions of photo-realism and storybook illustration.

The visually rich cards draw the viewer in to read the advertisements for Singer sewing machines, which reference interwoven tropes of race, ethnicity, imperialism, and industrial progress. This text is transcribed in the additional information area of the image record.

History of Singer

Founded in 1851 by Isaac Merrit Singer and Edward Clark as I.M. Singer & Company, the company introduced a machine that utilized an up-and-down motion of the needle and foot-treadle power in contrast to previous sewing machines that used side-to-side needle motion and hand-cranked power. The innovations proved popular, and in 1855 Singer was the largest sewing machine company in the world and won a first prize at the World's Fair in Paris. By 1890 Singer had factories in North and South America, Canada and Europe, and had an 80-percent share of the world market. Today Kohlberg & Company owns Singer, which continues to produce electronic sewing machines and other consumer products.

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