“Sailing Cards” were printed in America between 1850 and 1880, and served as advertisements and records of the various ships transporting cargo and passengers to San Francisco, during and after the California Gold Rush.
The cards were primarily advertisements used to entice passengers, but were also designed to inspire the confidence of prospective freight shippers.
Most of the cards represent vessels built in Boston and New York, and signify the formation of an American identity through visual representation of the vessels, expedition and typography.
Many of the cards were printed on heavy cardstock at around 4 x 6 inches in size, and while they were mass-produced and distributed liberally throughout the major shipping ports, the originals are now difficult to find.
While an original sailing card can sell today for a few thousand dollars, I think a nice album of reprints would make a fine collection or gift for a maritime enthusiast, history buff, or anyone who appreciates good graphic design.
Online sailing card collections include Mystic Seaport and The Library of Congress.