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Saturday, 5th July 2008

Caricature at its most complex is simple. With a few swift strokes of the pen a personality appears. Watch soneone produce one of these in ten seconds and any right minded human being is itching to have a go themselves. Thirty seconds later any right minded human being has given up.

An expert generally makes things look easy. The best type of expert is one that gets on with their job quietly. Being flaboyant might appeal to the gallery but nine times out of ten there is no gallery. Remember when you used to worry about such questions as 'When a tree falls without anyone to hear it, does it make any noise?' This is the same sort of problem, without a gallery to hear is there any noise? Do you think a concert pianoist pulls all those faces when there is nobody there to watch them. Does the music flowing from their fingers cause them such pain when there is nobody there to watch?

I bet its a lot more stateside though

For my part I have to tell you when sorting out a set of cigarette cards I can pull some terrific faces but I can put on an awarding winning display if there are people around to watch my twisted soul shift in an out of dimensions of genius few people can ever aspire to.

At the end of the day though, I have sorted half the sets out the others have and then these faceless others claim they cannot tell which cards I have put into order and which they have. Pah! With a flick of my artistic mane I stalk from the room. When I am dead and gone the sets I sorted will have a premium when finally I am recognised for what I am. I expect there will be hoaxers coming on the market, you know the sort of thing, 'This set was sorted by Franklyn.'

Lucky for me I have a God-given gift to sort out cigarette cards because if I had to earn a living as an artist I would have all the appearance of callow artist half-starved in a garrett without any of the trappings of ability.

I think I have prattled enough for most of you to have formed an opinion of just what I am.

In an effort to get a handle on this work of words I have turned to my trusty, Fowler, Modern English Usage, printed, with corrections, 1937. This tome being contemporary with cigarette cards.

Caricature

: See burlesque.

burlesque, caricature, parody, travesty. In wider applications the words are often interchangeable; a badly conducted trial, for instance, may be called a b., a c., a p., or a t., of justice; a perverted institution may be said, without change of sense to b., c., p., or t., its founders intentions; &, the others having no adjectives of their own, the adjective burlesque can serve them, as well as its own noun, in that capacity (a, b. portrait, poem, &c). Two distinctions, however, are worth notice :-

I did not check out those distinctions things were getting complicated enough. I expect Fowler is still in print and I hope things have changed either that or I am not meeting huge areas of the populous who discuss a perverted institution to burlesque its founders intentions.

Players, Football Caricatures by RIP [1926]

Believe it or not I am a fan of the process of reducing something to its bare essentials and then just presenting that. I am no good at it and so I have endless admiration for people that do. I can spend hours running through experimental web-design just wishing I could do something half as good.

Fashion runs through everything, cigarette cards are no different really. There was a rash of caricature sets. It might have been a fashion thing but it is also likely there was a certain amount of concern market share would be lost of competitors were producing a popular line of cards which you were not. Rather like today, if one television channel has a chat show on at 4pm they all have to have a chat show on at 4pm, if at all possible it has to be on the same subject, but even more mud-slinging.

There are a suprising quantity of sets with a caricature theme to them. I suppose the most widely known of this enterprise, in the UK, were Players with the artists, MAC & Rip producing the football series. Both series were of 50 cards, showing the leading footballers of the day. In the case of Football Caricature by Rip this was 1926 and followed a year later by Football Caricature by MAC. This manufacturer also produced Racing Caricatures which, unusually, was a 40 card series.

Churchmans, Prominent Golfers

Finely drawn this set loses a certain something because of the rather uniform 'brown' color used to create the images, which is not to everyones immeadiate taste. It is a nice set as it deals exclusively with jockey's and so should have space in anyones collection who likes this sort of thing as it is aggressively priced for a set covering this theme. Keeping up the sport theme there was also a set, Cricketing Caricatures by Rip [1926]

Players also attempted one of the most extreme forms of caricature in 1926, Straight Line Caricatures. A series of 50 cards with no theme running through it but for the fact the people portrayed were in the public eye. I have an admiration for this set. A set comprising faces you can recognise constructed using only ruler straight lines is quite an achievement. Some are more succesful than others, as expected.

Churchmans, Prominent Golfers [1931] is probably the best known of the caricature sets worldwide, certainly the price tag of £500/$850 suggests there are a lot of people out there chasing it down. I bet it is a lot more stateside though. Notice the signature in the corner of the card there, it is MEL.

Churchmans produced a number of series, Men of the moment in sport [1928] again by MEL

MEL was something of a tame caricaturists for the mighty Churchmans. He also did Sporting Celebrities [1931] Obviously Churchmans were trying to get as much diversity into its sporting sets as possible in an effort to please all of the people all of the time. I wonder if they managed it?

MEL was in demand, a few years previous to his work for Churchmans he had produced a fine set for Wills, Rugby International [1929] a 50 card set depicting a sport close to my heart.

Ogdens also produced a number of caricature sets. Shots from the Films [1936] a series of 50 cards. I include them just for the sheer cheek of this set. There is nothing wrong with it, but quite how it got to be titled as it was I do not know. Ritchie was the pen behind this set. A year previous to this they had produced a rather more mainstream set, Football Caricatures [1935], a series of 50 cards.

Players, Straight Line Caricatures (Douglas Fairbanks)

While I am with the 'smaller' manufacturers I might as well tell you about Hignett, Football Caricatures [1935] again a series of 50 cards and still within that somewhat magic circle of years where the vast majority of these caricature sets can be found.

So there you go, a brief round-up of caricature sets, something I will be coming back to in later months, when I can make the time.