Victorian Trade Cards

Inspiration for interior color palettes and polychromy (use of many colors) may come from period books, which often included color plates.

The House Beautiful.

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases made through affiliate links.

This frontispiece from The House Beautiful by Clarence Cook (1878) celebrates the eclectic decoration, tertiary colors, and modern comfort of Aesthetic Movement interiors. 

The Decorator and Furnisher.

Designs and variants for ceiling decoration, published in The Decorator and Furnisher.

Also look for vintage, chromolithographed trade cards; you’ll find plenty for sale on eBay. The following are in the collection of Eric Holzenberg, director of the Grolier Club in New York City.

Frieze painting.

In this illustration of 1884, note the repetition of color in papers, furniture, and portiere. The frieze painting continues onto the ceiling. 

1883 library.

Gold predominates in an 1883 library. 

Tiffany window.

A famous color plate from Louis C. Tiffany shows a harmonious scheme with wall and ceiling papers, painted wood, and stained glass. 

Entire room schemes may be gleaned – not only color palettes, but also motifs, decoration, textile design, and more.

Japanese motifs.

Japanese motifs on two sides of a trade card. 

Orient travel

Color cues might come from this travel-agency card.

English Aesthetic.

A German card interprets English Aesthetic taste. 

Holzenberg’s collection includes Victorian greeting cards, another source for period color schemes.

New Year’s greeting

Cues for color value, ornament, and Japonesque decoration in a New Year’s greeting card.

Valentine’s card.

A lovely palette shows up on a tasseled Valentine’s Day card.

Reversed side of Valentine’s card.

The reverse of the Valentine’s card adds rose colors, a strong complement.


Tags: colors inspiration OHJ June 2019 Polychromy

By Patricia Poore

Patricia Poore is Editor-in-chief of Old-House Journal and Arts & Crafts Homes, as well as editorial director at Active Interest Media’s Home Group, overseeing New Old House, Traditional Building, and special-interest publications. 

More From This Category

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and products we find essential. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

Product of the Week


© Copyright 2021 Home Group, a division of Active Interest Media. All Rights Reserved.
P.O. Box 20730 Boulder, CO 80308