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CLIPPER SHIPS DOMINATED THE SEAS for just a few decades in the mid-nineteenth century, but their innovations in technology and design, and their streamlined classic profile, made an enduring mark in the imaginations and memories of historians, shipwrights, artists, and the American public. Emerging in the early 1840s, clipper ships were smaller than their unwieldy predecessors, and uniformly more graceful. Most importantly, though, they operated at least twice the speed of their main competition—the larger cargo ships—and often even faster. Clippers reduced the voyage between New York or Boston and San Francisco from approximately three hundred days to closer to one hundred; the Flying Cloud set a record of eighty-nine days to the West Coast in 1851. The 1850s saw an increase in shipping and shipbuilding both in the United States and internationally, partly in response to new resources and new trading opportunities when gold was discovered in California (1849) and in Australia (1850), and the Asian tea trade opened at the same time. Enterprising merchants could take advantage of the earliest and fastest ship on which to place their mail, cargo, or employees.      Clipper ship lines advertised by means of colorful printed cards announcing their general departure times and piers, often trumpeting the advantages of their particular craft with eye-catching graphics achieved with display type and wood-engraved illustrations printed on coated card stock. While on average they measure about 6½ by 4 inches, the cards range in size from a little smaller to nearly 9 by 6 inches. Generally distributed by hand and truly meant as ephemeral advertising, fewer than 3,500 examples survive today. The New-York Historical Society possesses a fine collection of over 120 different cards issued for 102 ships traveling mostly the New York-to-San Francisco route, but also to New Orleans, Boston, Europe, and Australia.
     The production of clipper ship cards peaked in the late 1850s and early 1860s, during the economic depression that made ship business difficult to generate. The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 rendered the clipper ship obsolete for passenger travel, and soon after, they were abandoned for cargo transport in favor of steamships. Although they ruled the waves for just a short period time, both clipper ships and the cards that advertised them made a lasting impact on American commerce, history, and advertising.