by Richard McKinstry

Billheads contain vignettes that illustrate products associated with a business and sometimes fairly wordy descriptions of a concern's activities. Often, the vignettes provide clues on what a business thought about itself. For instance, a manufacturer from the 1870s told customers that it was busy, prosperous, and successful by depicting its building's chimney billowing smoke into the sky, railroad cars being loaded with countless shipments of its products, and people bustling around its factory building. As America expanded economically during the Gilded Age, this message was not uncommon. In addition, when products are shown, vignettes provide clues about the design of goods being made and sold. Besides serving as an bill, these pieces of ephemera often did double duty as stationery. As a result, businesses were able to advertise to prospective customers through letter writing and complete their sales by using the same kind of sheet of paper as an invoice.

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