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Saturday, 17th May 2008
Art Card

H ow many times

have I marvelled at the skills of the illustrator on this web page? How many times have you looked, really looked, at a simple cigarette card and wondered just how much time and effort it took to get it from conception to fruition.

Once you give it a bit of thought you soon realise making a 50 card series of imaginative quality cards which would help the sales of cigarettes is not all that easy. It wasn't that easy then so we have inherited a lot of football cards and the like.

Probably the most important element of the card was the picture. You can do without the words but take away the picture and what have you got? Not a lot really.

Sometimes the art work was done by freelancers

Sometimes the art work was done by freelancers but more often it was done by someone employed by the firm. The Imperial Tobacco Company which grew out of the Tobacco War with James B Duke.

mardon & sons

This meant from quite an early stage there was a certain amount of centralisation in card manufacture. That goes to explain why very similar sets were produced by different issuers. A lot of the printing work was conducted at Mardon & Sons and this is where the 'Artists Department' grew up.

During the heady days of cigarette card production up to 15 artists were employed full time.

Mardons also had the research and copy-writing facilities at the location. Every so often a firm would contact them saying it was time for another set on such and such a topic, or Mardons would come up with an idea.

Wherever the original idea came from Mardon's would then compile/create the set of cards and present it to the company which had requested/required it. That was the first roughs and once these had been approved the real research would begin. In todays world it is difficult to imagine the labour this represented.

...research section had about 80,000 books from which they would cull the information


Mardon's research section had about 80,000 books from which they would cull the information to be put on the reverse of the cards. A small card usually having some 120 words and the larger format cards having around about 140 words (although some sets had rather less).

Consider also that many of the reference books we take for granted were yet to be devised. In the area of sport there was very little reference work. Most of the information had to be taken from match reports, press releases and the like.

If you are looking for errors of fact then you will discover there are far more in the sports arena than any other when it comes to cigarette cards.

The illustrators job was very different then. Nowadays a scribble on a napkin has to be signed but then it was a real privilege for a freelancer to get his name on the cards and rarer still for an employee to be able to identify himself as the hand behind the work.

the artists

Although this is an interesting study for research, there is just so much still to learn, it is also a line of research that has been simmering since at least the 1950's when Mr J. Wicks first brought the situation to the card collecting public.

Wardle is the name that springs time mind almost instantly when I think of cigarette cards artists. He not only signed his name on the front of the card, he got his name in lights on the back of it. Difficult to miss then really, but also the artwork is of the highest standard. Arthur Wardle was an animal artist and was responsible for a famous dog series of cards. Born in 1864 he died in 1949.

Often though a set of cards was not the work of one person. Up to three, sometimes four illustrators would work on one set of cards.

Often though a set of cards was not the work of one person

Players, Uniforms of the Territorial Army is a set in point. Cards were sent out in batches of ten, each batch taking about a month to complete.

On this particular set the artist Cattermole was paid £105/$180 for each card he produced (this is in 1939). I confess to be a bit out of touch with the purchasing power of the pound at the time or indeed how that stacks up with the labour rates of the time.

I do know there was one artist that was unimpressed with the payment given for his artwork on a particular set of cards. I met the man and he told me, so I will take his first hand experience over my historical inadequacies.

That said there are still sets which are the work of one man and although I am not a big fan of lists here is as close as I want to get to a list in this article.

As way of introduction there is a set of file cards floating about with a huge wealth of detail regarding the artists of cigarette card sets. A wonderful storehouse of information which I would love to get my hands upon, if only for a while.

The dates given in this article are as those on the cards. Other information on the cards include any changes in the title name etc, but this is not given in this article because I just do not have access to those blessed cards.

CH Fry has to be considered a pretty unfortunate fellow as there are three sets which are attributed to him all by Wills. An illustrator at the end of the cigarette card era he failed to get any of the sets out into the cigarette packets. They were:

Pond and Aquarium, 15 October 1946

Life in the Hedgerows, 16 May 1955

Do You Know, 22 November 1955

Look at those dates, day, month, year.

And look another series of Do You Know was being done, Do you know, series A was the first set Wills produced after World War I had stopped cigarette card production. I could be 22 Nov 1955 was the last set to come out of Wills, it is somehow nice to think this was the case.

As normal I have jumped right in and ensured there is going to be no real order in the listing of the artists. Most of you are likely to be used to the fact I dance to a rather different tune, it does not make it easy but it does make it interesting.

Let me stick with the unissued theme for a moment longer. Although I have a page dedicated to the 'might have beens' of cigarette cards this is not actually a complete list of unissued cards. By the very nature of the beast you can never be sure you have tracked them all down. So hear are a few more:

P. Biegel produced a set: Players, Dogs Heads 30 November 1955 which was unissued but available and also 5 Hunting Scenes for Xmas Outers, 27 August 1956. I suspect this was the artwork for the packets of cigarettes over the Christmas period during a time when such things mattered.

Players, Dogs Heads by Biegel

Moving from unissued sets which can be found reasonably easily to sets which you are unlikely to ever see in the original form, unless you are one of the fortunate few.

Lucy Dawson. Produced a set for Wills, Puppies, a series of 40, misreably I do not know the date of this unissued series. I have actually only ever seen them as a proof sheet. Murrays does not list them in his catalogue. In fact proving this set existed at all is quite a feat.

Conelly produced a 'set' for Players, Sketches of Old Time Motor Cars dated 5 April 1957 only a proof sheet has ever been seen of these too date. So it might be that is all that exists of this set.

The dates on these cards tell the story of why they were not issued, being so late in the day, but the following set is one which the date fails to tell the story, and I do not have any answer to why it was not issued:

B Darwin: Lambert & Butler, Golf Scheme, 17 Feb 1933 but unissued. Unlike the other artists though he did get a set out into the public domain, Churchman, Can you beat Bogey, 8 Feb 1934. Another golfing set. Although anyone with a catalogue handy will see it was not quite a full set which got out into the public domain as of the 55 cards issued only 54 are readily available.

This also throws into relief the fact that artists were not constrained to producing cards for one company.

An example of such behaviour come from Ernest Aris who did the artwork for:

Players, Curious Beaks 11 November 1926

Lambert & Butler, Motor Index Marks 17 June 1926

Churchman, Frisky 2 6 February 1926.

1926 was a busy time for this fellow.

Ernest also shows up another detail. The index card shows Players, Curious Beaks having been completed in late 1926 but it was not issued until 1929, October in fact. Lambert and Butler were keener to get the set out as it came out in Dec 1926.

I wish I had never clapped eyes on the Frisky 2 entry. The 2 could well be significant in this matter but I have not got to the bottom of that.

...obviously something is wrong there.

The London Cigarette Card Company who have to be treated with the respect of a company that created cigarette cards as an organised hobby lists the date of Frisky as May 1925. That has to be something of a record and obviously something is wrong there.

However this is the line most other people take which leads me to believe Frisky 2 is something else. However Murrays gives the date of 1935 which is suspiciously late and a rather round 10 years after everyone else.

Although this might not be the best way to illustrate the point it does show there is still plenty of research to do in the matter of cigarette cards and that is all part of the fun. Many people think it is all cut and dried but believe me there are great gaping holes in the knowledge base of cards and anyone can contribute to the field.

Before I continue to beat on about the great art work let me just mention Newman Mond was the artist behind, Ogdens Trick Billiards, 14 August 1934 moving on...

actually I am not really going to leave it there because Newman-Mond was not the only person getting paid to produce artwork everyone would have rather liked to have got. VW Holsman was the one they went for when a straight line was required.

Army Corps & Divisional Signs 22 Feb 1923

Army Corps & Divisional Signs Series 2 22 July 1924

Regimental Standards and Cap Badges 15 Jan 1924

War Medals and Decorations 2 August 1929

National Flags and Arms 18 June 1936

all for Players. and then also for Churchmans,

Well Known Ties July 1923

Famous Cricket Colours 23 December 1927 and finally

Well Known Ties series 2 8 March 1935.

and even one for Hignett, International Caps 8 December 1923.

Okay enough mischief, if anyone else was having such fun with cigarette cards I would be quite indignant.

Now I could go on forever in this vain, some of you think I have already but just one more thing.

I make great play about cigarette cards being produced by the experts of the day, the great and the good but so far I have wheeled out names which will not have exactly registered in many minds.

Churchmans, Prominent Golfers

The fellow who went by the name MEL on cards he produced was in fact JB Melhuish who was the sporting cartoonist in the Evening Standard during the period. He did the art work for:


Men of the moment in Sport 8 Sept 1928

Prominent Golfers 6 Sept 1930

Sporting Celebrities 2 October 1931

Ogden, Turf Personalities 21 March 1939

Wills, International Rugby Players 21 March 1928.

Okay, how about:

Hills, Fragments from France was done by Captain Bruce Bairnsfather without doubt one of the most famous war artists from the Great War His most famous character being 'Old Bill'.

Singleton & Cole, Bonzo Series could not have been done by anyone else buy GE Studdy the creator of the famous dog.

Sticking with the war artist theme a very distinguished style of card was created by Rene Bull. Not to tricky to recognise these:

Churchmans, Eastern Proverbs 19 June 1930 and the second series, 10 March 1932. Also, Churchmans, Howlers 13 August 1936.

Churchman were to produce a set called Silhouettes of Warships and commisioned Fred T Jane to do the artwork. He is probably better known as the specialist in naval shipping, the editor of Janes Fighting Ships.


Churchmans, Silhouettes of Warships [1915]

I have mentioned MEL the caricaturist but he was not the only one in the field. P. Buchanan was the pen behind the Players set, Racing Caricatures which has a date of 15 May 1924, a nice set if a little staid in its colour scheme.

He worked under the name of 'The Tout'. Rip for my money is the best known of the caricaturists. I am not sure why this should be the case, it is just a name that stikes in my mind. It stood for RP Hill.

Actually Rip might stick in the mind as there was a RIP also a caricaturists penning for cigarette card companies. Isn't that just typical. This RIP was in fact, Robert L Ripley and did the set Carreras, Believe it or Not [1934] which is pretty apt I suppose.

There was something of a seasonal element to carciature sets but an ealy example was Spy who produced Wills, Vanity Fair [1902]. This early set was in fact drawn by Sir Leslie Ward

Tom Cottrell was the acid pen behind the work of Carreras, Notable MP's [1929] a time when the politicians of the land were given more respect than they get today and a sure reflection of just how innocent the past must have been, or how we imagine it to be.

Let me finish with the fact Player, Wildfowl was done by Peter Scott, explorer, painter and founder of the Wildlife Trust. No reason to, just could not think of anything better really. Rather lame, a lame duck if you will.