This exhibition of the ephemera of trade in the British Isles from 1654 to the 1860s draws primarily on the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera in the Bodleian Library. Trade cards and bill headings, in spite their small format, contain a wealth of information both in their textual and iconographic content.
Despite the wars in Europe, this period saw commercial expansion and increased mechanisation. There was also considerable overseas trade. A noticeable feature of the trade cards of the 18th and early 19th centuries is the number of products mentioned which were imported, notably from Europe and from the East and West Indies. Changes in society and technology and the growth of commerce with foreign lands reached both a culmination and a fresh starting point in the Great Exhibition of 1851.