Skip to main content

Sailing Ship Card Collection, 1857-1894, 1918, 1990, undated

Identifier: MSS 470

Scope and Contents

Sailing ship cards have been identified as the earliest form of multi-color advertising in the United States. Printed to announce the departure of commercial ship sailings for both passengers and freight companies, the ephemeral nature of these cards makes them very rare. The collection contains 1,296 cards, 1,193 of which are unique,and 103 of which are duplicates. The collection is international in scope, including cards advertising journeys to San Francisco, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sydney, Melbourne and Sidney, Australia. Most of the cards are unique in design and demonstrate a broad range of printing techniques. The collection is organized into four series. Each folder contains one card, unless otherwise specified.

Series I. Sailing Ship Cards is the largest series in the collection. It consists of 10 boxes of cards, with one folder for each ship represented in the collection. The date listed on the finding aid identifies, if known, the date the card was printed.

Series II. Steamship Cards includes cards printed to advertise steamship sailings. Series III. Shipping Lines includes cards designed to advertise a specific shipping company rather than a specific ship. Series IV. Ephemera includes card base mockups; fragments of graphic images found on the cards in Series I; an illustrated lecture on clipper ship cards; a news article; photographs of sailing ship cards; and other items of ephemera.


  • Creation: 1857-1894, 1918, 1990, undated

Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Historical Sketch

In the late 19th century, between 1850 and 1890, ship owners and shipping lines announced the departure of their ships by means of printed cards instead of advertising in newspapers or via broadsides, as they had previously done. These sailing cards were typically four to five inches by five to seven inches in size, and were distributed to shippers and potential passengers to announce impending journeys. As mentioned by Bruce Roberts, in his book, Clipper Ship Sailing Cards, the "cards announced that Ship A would leave Departure Point B for Destination C on or before Date D and you should contact Agent E if you had goods and/or yourself to transport." (Roberts 1) Roberts also indicates that use of these cards was "the most substantial of any class of American advertising cards" during the mid-to-late 19th century. Aimed for a specific audience, very few of these cards were printed for a specific voyage. While some cards were printed in black and white, the majority of them were printed in color, representing "the first pronounced use of color in American advertising art" (Roberts 2).

Typically the cards were printed on coated stock, also known as enameled stock, utilizing letterpress techniques to print the cards and wood engraving for the images. Additional techniques included woodcut and lithography. As chromolithography techniques progressed with accompanying changes in machinery and ink, the need for coated stock was removed and the options for design and color advanced providing options to overprint as many as 7 colors. Some of the cards in the collection used embossing techniques to create the images. George F. Nesbitt from New York printed many of the sailing cards; other printers included A. E. Ivers, Stationer and Printer; Carr, Dunn & Newhoff Printers; Rand, Avery & Co., Printers; Blair & Hallet, Printers; Fred Rogers, Steam Job Printer; and Watson's Press. The Phillips Library collection includes cards printed by each of these organizations.

Typically the ships were referred to as clipper ships, which designated the speed at which the journeys were made. At the height of the California Gold Rush, ships were built to travel faster and faster to reach the West Coast; the clipper ships' sharp hull lines and heavy sparring enabled increased speeds of passage. Prior to this change in boat design, a trip from Boston or New York to San Francisco could take as long as 300 days; the increased speed of the ships shortened these journeys to between 100 and 120 days.

Examples of American, British, German, and Norwegian barks (barques) are included in this collection. The American clipper ship was considered to be faster than its British and European counterparts. Ports of origin included Boston, New York, and San Francisco, with destinations to San Francisco, New York, London, Melbourne and Sydney in Australia, Christchurch, Dunedin, Lyttleton, and Wellington in New Zealand, and Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Many of the cards announced the duration of previous journeys as an enticement to attract passengers and/or indicated the number of times the ship had made the voyage. The ship master's name was printed on most cards; many cards identified where the ship had been built, sometimes including the name of the builder. Several cards use the phrase Succeeding the (name of ship) to indicate the current vessel was traveling the same journey as the ship mentioned. Most cards do not include the exact date of sail because ship owners did not want to sail until the ship had a full cargo; others used the phrase To Sail positively on or before the advertised day. Rarely was the year of the voyage printed on the card so that the card could be used to advertise several voyages. However, many of the cards include the actual date the card was created by the printer. Allan Forbes and Ralph Eastman note in their book, Yankee Ship Sailing Cards, that Henry W. Peabody of Boston was one of the first ship owners to experiment with sailing his ships on a specific date to avoid the problems of a ship remaining in dock for weeks or months "to sail when laden." (Forbes and Eastman x) Other shipping companies represented in the collection include: Neal & Crowninshield Australasian Packet Line; Australian Commercial Line; Coleman's California Line; Henry C. Brooks and Co.; Brooks Australian Line; Vernon Brown & Son; Glidden & Williams; Merchants' Express Line; Samuel Stevens & Co. Australian Line; Sutton & Co.; Sutton's Dispatch Line; and Winsor's Regular Line.

The clipper ship trade started to decline with the introduction of the steamship. Although the sailing ships were typically faster than the steamships, the latter was not at the mercy of the wind and weather to complete their journeys. The Phillips Library collection also includes advertising cards for steamships in Series II.


5.5 Linear feet (11 boxes)

Language of Materials




Sailing ship cards have been identified as the earliest form of multi-color advertising in the United States. Printed to announce the departure of commercial ship sailings for both passengers and freight companies, the ephemeral nature of these cards makes them very rare. The collection contains 1,296 cards, 1,193 of which are unique, and 103 of which are duplicates.

Series List

SERIES I. Clipper Ship Cards

SERIES II. Steamship Cards

SERIES III. Shipping Lines

SERIES IV. Ephemera

Physical Location

Phillips Library Stacks


This collection was created through purchase and gifts from several sources. In series I.: Dr. Charles Goddard Weld donated several cards on July 7, 1909 (Acc 4,942). Ellerton James donated 43 cards on November 2, 1917 (Acc 6,275). L. W. Jenkins, gift, November 7, 1917, and 1953. Fourteen shipping cards for the Henry W. Peabody & Co. shipping line along with two cards from the Henry C. Brooks & Co. shipping line were donated by Henry H. Page on February 1, 1929 (Acc 8,209). Mrs. Clayton Welch, gift, June 3, 1938 (Acc 10,345). 104 cards were donated by Frank G. Speck on June 9, 1948 (Acc 11,942). 69 cards were donated by R. S. Spears on February 17, 1949 (Acc 12,063). 10 cards of the Arcadia and Cutwater were donated by David S. Smith on April 20, 1955 (Acc 13,450). Mrs. Clarkson A. Cramner on October 17, 1955 (Acc 13,602). Cards of the Three Brothers and Logan were donated by the estate of Horace Follansbee on November 7, 1955 (Acc 13,602). A card for the Thatcher Magoun was purchased from the Mills Antique Shop on October 16, 1959 (Acc 14,891). A card for the Haze was purchased through an exchange with the Mills Antique Shop on November 17, 1959 (Acc 14,911). A card for the Golden State was donated by Mrs. C. G. Hutcheson on February 29, 1960 (Acc 15,011). Three cards of the Flying Cloud and Mary Whitridge were donated by Miss Zulette Potter on September 1, 1960 (Acc 15,224). Card for the bark Suprise was purchased from Richard Mills on November 12, 1963 (Acc 16,363). Cards for John Land and Golden West were donated by Mr. LaRue Brown on March 12, 1964 (Acc 16,517). Francis W. Dolloff on March 8, 1965 (Acc 16,888). Thirtyfive cards were purchased from John Howell Books on September 4, 1973 (Acc 20,208). Two cards for the Eliza McNeil and one for the Harvey Mills were purchased from John Howell Books on June 7, 1976 (Acc 20,944).

94 cards were purchased from John Howell Books on March 16, 1977 (Acc 21,169). Nine cards for the Anglo Saxon, Europa, Meteor, Napier, Orpheus, Reynard, and Sunshine were purchased from John Howell Books on December 6, 1977 (Acc 21,388). Cards for the Envoy, Mary E. Packer, and John Tucker were purchased from John Howell Books on August 8, 1977 (Acc 21,609). Francis B. Lothrop donated cards for the General McClellan, El Capitan, and E. F. Willets on November 1979 (Acc 22,003). Cards for the Charlotte A. Littlefield and Franc Lambert were donated by Francis B. Lothrop on December 31, 1979 (Acc 22,066-G). Cards for the Dirigo and Julia were donated by Francis B. Lothrop on April 8, 1981 (Acc 22, 484). Cards for the David Crockett and Dreadnought were donated by Francis B. Lothrop on June 30, 1983 (Acc 23,087). Cards for the Alleghanean, Andrew Jackson, Arey, Black Hawk, C. S. Pennell, Mary Ogden, and Susan Howland were donated by Francis B. Lothrop on August 26, 1983 (Acc 23,116). Five cards for the Peruvian, Wizard King, Garibaldi, and White Swallow were a gift from Stephen D. Paine (Acc 25,334). Daniel R. Fuller gift on February 19, 1991 (Acc 90,083). Cards for the Web Foot, Look-out, and a German language card were purchased from Ryan M. Cooper Maritime Antiques on October 8, 2007 (Acc 2007.024). Three cards for the Skylark, James R. Keeler, and Manitou were purchased from Ten Pound Island Books on September 23, 2010 (Acc 2010.032 and 2010.033). Cards for the Look Out and Sancho Panza were purchased from PBA Galleries on November 29, 2010 (Acc 2010.044). One card for the William Slater(Schooner) was purchased from Ryan M. Cooper Maritime Antiques on August 29, 2011 (Acc 2011.040). Some materials came from the Bradlee Collection.

In the other series, cards for the Edinburg, Asia, Golden Gate, Acushnet, Wamsutta, Constitution, Weybeset, America, and Nevada were purchased from Ryan M. Cooper Maritime Antiques on August 8, 2011 (Acc 2011.037).

Bibliography and Related Collections

Forbes, Allan and Ralph M. Eastman, Yankee Ship Sailing Cards, Volumes 1, 2, and 3. Boston, Massachusetts, State Street Trust Company, 1948, 1949, and 1952.

Kemble, John Haskel, ed. California "Clipper" Cards. San Francisco, California, The Book Club of California, 1949.

Roberts, Bruce D. Clipper Ship Sailing Cards. Bruce D. Roberts, 2007.

Henry Hastings & Company Records, MM 118

Processing Information

Collection processed by Barbara Pero Kampas; re-typed by Catherine Robertson, September 2013; updated by Tamara Gaydos, July 2018.

SAILING SHIP CARD COLLECTION, 1857-1894, 1918, 1990, undated
Processed by: Barbara Pero Kampas and re-typed by Catherine Robertson; updated by Tamara Gaydos; machine-readable finding aid created by: Rajkumar Natarajan; updated by Tamara Gaydos.
Description rules
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Phillips Library Repository

Peabody Essex Museum
306 Newburyport Turnpike
Rowley MA 01969 USA