Baseball cards and Pokemon cards are the modern descendants of the 18th and 19th century trade card – images printed on small pieces of cardboard and distributed as advertising for everything from innovations in construction equipment to the Victorian London demimonde. These cards became especially popular collectibles in the 1870s when new processes for color printing were developed.

One of the thousands of merchants producing trade cards was the English thread manufacturer J. and P. Coats Co., whose products can probably still be found somewhere in your home. Their 19th century specialty was a patented process of twisting multiple cotton yarns together to produce an exceptionally strong thread.

Hmmm … multiple … twisted … together … To some demented advertising mind, that suggested Mormonism.

This novelty-shaped trade card in my own collection, dating from the 1880s, shows two ladies embracing one man under the caption: “Evidently a strong attachment, but not comparable in strength to J. & P. Coats’ spool cotton.” The signpost points to Utah. So far so good — but I’m at a loss to explain the whisky bottle, coiled rope and pair of pistols lying on the ground to the right of the figures.


12 comments for “Twisted

  1. Thanks, Ardis. This is almost as good as Polygamy Porter (“Why have just one?”)

  2. Ardis,
    No one can accuse you of not sticking to the “thread” here!
    What does all this mean? Strange. Based on the 1880s time frame, I’d suggest that it could possibly bear some connection to the sensational appearance of the first of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales, “A Study in Scarlet,” which came out in that decade as a popular blockbuster with its story of Mormon violence and polygamy spilling into London from the Utah. Alternately, it could be that the blandishments of the two ladies (perhaps sent FROM Utah) are persuading the somewhat rough looking gent from taking the tools of his trade — bottle, rope, and gun — TO Utah in order to deal with whatever situation there presumably needed his attention. The man’s costume looks a bit odd…any clue there?
    Did J & P put out a card dealing with the U.S. Constitution “hanging by a thread”?
    By the way, the Arthur Conan Doyle Society is holding its international convention in Salt Lake City either this year or next because of some major anniversary relating to “A Study in Scarlett.” Do you know what that is?
    /s/ John Watson, M.D.

  3. Heh, heh, heh — sometimes being the continual butt of the joke gets a little wearisome, but sometimes the joke is so, well, weird, that it’s fun, no? This, like Polygamy Porter, doesn’t have the sting of some caricatures.

    The man’s costume is odd. It looks to me like he’s dressed as a clown, with ruffles at neck and waist. The “outie” belly button is really the last of a row of pompoms; there is a pompom on his beanie, too. I dunno if those details are really thought out, or whether it’s just part of a general mocking.

    Bill, I feel safe in replying, with no hard evidence whatsoever to support me, that no, J&P didn’t have a constitution-hanging-by-a-thread card. I know you well enough to recognize by these flights of imagination that this card tickled you! We’ll have to ask Mike Homer about the Conan Doyle thing, eh?

  4. Exceptionally strong thread, twisted, together…sounds like some free advertising for Mormons :)

  5. Hmmm, is the whiskey bottle, rope, and pistol some kind of allusion to those who ran out the Mormons???

  6. Oh now there’s more things I want to collect! Ardis, you have just contributed to my constant e-bay trawling…

  7. there is a guy in Cardston Ab Canada who named his brewing company Polygamy brewing company… because you cannot have just one…


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