by José L. Rodriguez
Some of my favorite cameos are those where the design is made to look like the product, profession or industry itadvertises. These “figural” or “shaped” cameo designs are actually quite scarce. I have documented only 250 out of 5,500+ cameo designs known -- thatʼs less than 5% of the total.
In figural cameos, the advertising text is placed within a design that resembles the product it advertises. Examples of
these would be padlocks, kegs, water pitchers, boots, books and many others. The most commonly found are books
(opened or closed) for booksellers, publishers and stationers; padlocks, anvils, axes, saw blades and other tools for
hardware merchants and agricultural implement dealers; mortar & pestles for druggists; water pitchers, soup tureens,
etc. for china and queensware dealers; barrels and kegs for coopers, grain dealers, wine and liquor merchants, and
the like; boots, shoes, shirts and such for clothing and footwear merchants; and cigar boxes, tobacco jars, etc.
for tobacco related products.
The vast majority of cameos are not "figurals", but found in tightly framed cartouches. Most often these frames are
scalloped but also come in shields, octagons and ovals. Sometimes the borders are decorated with garlands and
other decorative elements. Once in a while elaborate rococo style cartouches are found as well as some rare types
such as those with lacework borders. Almost always the frames are symmetrical rather than free flowing. Text and
graphics are encapsulated within these various frames and render a pleasing and colorful advertisement. In many
ways, cameos resemble store shingles and wall plaques found on many storefronts and commercial buildings erected
throughout the United States in the mid-19th century, when most commercial signage displayed text with decorative
touches like curleques, stars, eagles, etc. Rarely were other graphics added. Sometimes the store shingle was a
shaped sign like a boot, a pair of eyeglasses, a pocket watch, a pair of scissors, a mortar and pestle, a saw, or other
There are quite a few figural cameos known only by one or two examples. These “one-offs” are quite interesting and
some are spectacular. Such designs include a stove, a safe, a ball of cheese, a headstone, a mackerel, an
envelope, a bale of cotton, a pocket watch, a pipe fitting, a window curtain and an architectural carving.
Figural cameos not in my collection but known to me include a stovetop hat for a hatter, a whale for an sperm oil
merchant, a medicine bottle for a patent medicine manufacturer and a wall map for a map seller.
The gallery below presents a selection from the José Rodriguez Cameo Collection together with some
selected additions found in public sources such as auction catalogs and city business directories.
We hope to add examples from other collectors and submissions are solicited.
( in Important Events of the Century Centennial Book, p.238 )
( see also this advertising return cover )