Trade Cards in The Fight Against AIDS

By Ginny A. Roth


AIDS Memorial Quilt, 1993. Card #106
National Library of Medicine #101452979


World AIDS Day is an international observance held on December 1st each year and an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died. World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day, held for the first time in 1988. In 1996, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) was in charge of the planning and promotion of World AIDS Day and remained so until 2004 when the World AIDS Campaign became an independent organization. United States presidential proclamations of World AIDS Day have been issued annually since 1995.

In 1991, using as inspiration the yellow ribbon (which were tied on trees to show support for the U.S. military fighting in the Gulf War), a group of artists came together to create a meaningful symbol at the height of the AIDS crisis to show support and compassion for those with AIDS. These artists were a part of the Visual AIDS Artists’ Caucus and they created “The Ribbon Project,” better known today as the Red Ribbon. The color red was chosen for its “connection to blood and the idea of passion—not only anger, but love…” President George W. Bush’s administration displayed a 28-foot AIDS ribbon on the White House’s North Portico on World AIDS Day 2007 and it is now a yearly tradition.

The image above is a trade card from the collection “AIDS Awareness: The Fight Against AIDS,” published in 1993 by the comic book company Eclipse Enterprises. The collection includes 110 trade cards, 78 of which the National Library of Medicine holds in its historical collections. Trade cards, although most commonly used for entertainment purposes, have also been used to educate segments of the population who may not be reached by more traditional means of communication. The AIDS Awareness cards feature prominent individuals affected by AIDS or who were involved in AIDS awareness, as well as activist-led organizations and topics on HIV/AIDS. On the front of each card is an original illustration of the person, organization, or representation of the topic of the card. Individuals include Steve Rubell, owner of the popular New York City nightclub, Studio 54; organizations include Act Up and People with AIDS Coalition (PWAC); and topics include Women and AIDS. On the back of each card is the individual’s biography or information on the topic or organization depicted on the front of the card. The AIDS Awareness cards were distributed in packs of 12, along with a condom. They were written by William Livingstone, Perry Gaskill, Althaea Yronwode, and Catherine Yronwode. The illustrations were done by Charles Hiscock and Greg Loudon. The cards were sold primarily through bookstores, comic book stores, and specialty stores, as well as directly to non-profit organizations that used them as an educational tool.

In recognition of World AIDS Day, we hope you enjoy this gallery of images from the “AIDS Awareness: The Fight Against AIDS” trade card collection.



portrait of Ginny outside Ginny A. Roth is the Curator of Prints & Photographs in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.