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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Eng 1801

Houghton Library collection of tart cards


Collection of English and American "tart cards," a type of ephemera related to sex workers.


  • circa 1980-2021

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material. Collection is open for research.


1.5 linear feet (3 boxes)

Collection of printed several thousand (with a few manuscript) tart cards, a type of ephemera related to sex workers, collected from identified areas of London (England), with a small group from the United States; occasionally accompanied by letters to the donor from fellow collectors.

Biographical / Historical

Tart cards are a type of ephemera related to sex workers, which originated in London (England) in the 1960s as handwritten postcards and continue to be produced in the twenty-first century, now printed with photographs and contact information. Tart cards are placed in phone booths, stores, and window to advertise the services of call girls, sex workers who must be contacted by phone (or through an agency's phone). These cards have been produced in many countries around the world, including Argentina, Brazil, Dubai, China, and the United States, among other countries. Due to laws restricting sex work in these countries, the cards often include euphemistic phrases related to sex.

In London, tart cards are placed by professional "carders" in phone boxes; they replace cards removed by telephone companies' cleaners and often remove cards placed by rival carders. The practice was made illegal in the United Kingdom in 2001 but continues.


Arranged by nationality, then chronologically.

Physical Location

Harvard Depository

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Received from various donors on various dates.

Processing Information

Processed by Melanie Wisner, 2018. Adjustments to the title, scope and content, and subjects, Betts Coup, 2020.

Formerly titled: Moll Flanders Memorial Collection of Trade Cards of Enterprising London Businesswomen, circa 1980-2018, a title devised by the donor.

Houghton Library collection of tart cards, circa 1980-2021 (MS Eng 1801): Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard University
2018 November 19
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

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