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Saturday, 17th May 2008

his is one of those articles which fills in a gap you did not know existed. An answer waiting for a question, if you will. I read somewhere the hammer was invented before the nail. I was amazed at this but I was quite young, afterall a 'hammer' could be almost anything a nail though is only ever going to be a nail.

In 1942 an article was published in a prominent cigarette card journal. The author, Mr Carver was addressing the shape of cigarette cards too come.

...how to get that mass of cards unstuck?

I did not read the article the first time around I hasten to add but by dint of never throwing away a piece of paper I have accumulated a vast quantity of rubbish, which really is as good-a word as any for my filing system.

He put forward a charter for future production of cards. At that time there was no reason to suppose there was not going to be cigarette cards after the Second World War. The fact there was not is now a matter of history.

However the charter he suggested was this:

  1. The abolition of the 'sticky-back'
  2. The name of the firm responsible for each issue to be shown on every card
  3. Each card to be numbered and the total in the series to be stated on every card
  4. Whenever practicable all pictures in any one series to be either all upright or all horizontal
  5. Regard to be paid to linking up the numbering with the subject, ie either chronological or alphabetical sequence
  6. Standardisation in size of card
  7. Large cards to be used for subjects which particularly lend themselves to this size
  8. The title of the subject of the cards always to appear on the picture side
  9. A plea for the limitation of sport and cinema sets to a quantity sufficient only to keep them up to date
  10. Two sets of each series issued to be deposited with a recognised central body
  11. Variant printings and reprints only to be issued when good reasons exist
  12. In view of the historical gaps now existing in subject matter, the issue of cards to be resumed as soon after the war as business conditions permit, with a hope that some of the historical personalities and events of this epic period be covered on cards.

So there you have it. At the time there was quite some debate about what all this meant. A great many people agreed with the abolition of the 'sticky-back' the cards which became adhesive at the slightest provocation and remain so to this day. It is interesting to see these sets were just as 'unpopular' then as they are now (in fact they were never popular amongst collectors at the time) because of the difficulty in keeping them under control although with the advent of individual card wallets the problem of ending up with a solid block of cards is not what it was.

I imagine there is hardly a collector of cards in the land that has not wondered how to get that mass of cards unstuck. For the record steam is as good as anything else but nothing is satisfactory. Given the cards are almost certainly ruined from a collecting point of view do what you like with them really.

The following two points on the list were also greeted with widespread agreement and I find myself in agreement also. Although I confess more number on the reverse of the cards would probably hinder rather than improve the sorting process nowadays when we basically know how many cards there are in any particular set.

Point four has become more and more important as time has gone on. Cigarette cards are often placed in frames and cutting the mats for horizontal and vertical cards is a task to try the patience of Job. Anyone with a perfectionist streak needs to steer well clear of even attempting this procedure.

Point five seems a bit drastic, the cards already are numbered on the reverse if this charter were to be followed. I must admit though there are one or two sets which seem largely to follow an alphabetical order and then for some reason veer from this course. I am always being asked why this is the case and I am not the only one asked. I have never been able to give a satisfactory answer why this should be the case. Why not? seems about as good as it gets on this subject. Mighty satisfactory. Film Stars series seemed pretty keen on this feature.

Standardisation of cards did not get too many votes with many people wanting to retain the individuality of card manufacturers. For the most part cards were reasonably standard due to the constraints of the medium they were handed out in. Gallaher (see independents) was a company that was mighty proud of its non-conformist nature.

Given the size of cards generally quite what Mr Carter was going on about at point seven I do not know.

Interestingly (?) there was general agreement that point 8 was a good idea. I find myself in disagreement. Now I imagine my disapproval would send shockwaves through the world of cigarette card collectors and perhaps even a civil war would have broken out over the issue, collectors rallying to my raising of the standard. Then again back in the world of reality I suspect I would have been deservedly ignored. Some cards deserve explanation of this type but others do not need to have a beautiful illustration pushed aside by a inappropriate typeface.

Point Nine is a moot point. Sport is a ratings winner, many an ailing TV channel has saved its bacon by buying up sports coverage. You can only produce unpopular goods for so long before going bankrupt. Interestingly at the time the charter was being put forward the British were yet to really learn that lesson. The British Empire were getting our goods if they needed them or not, they were British and so best. We were still exporting Hillman Imps to Canada. They hardly started on a chilly day in Britain let alone in Canada.

Point ten is a quaint view of what the hobby must have been like in those days. A central body to hold two sets of every card produced, it would be like the British Museum having a smaller collection than an avid collector. It would be lovely to have a central database of cards so they could be viewed in all the glory. For the most part a dream but the Internet does get the dream a step closer. If only there was time and space enough for such a venture. Unfortunately without a grant from the lottery I am unlikely to get the project of the ground, and to be quite honest I am not sure I want too. It is an idea waiting for a volunteer although I have been approached by a number of people who are attempting a catalogue for specific card areas and I am looking forward to seeing if these are going to come to fruition. I would also be very pleased to hear from anyone else who is attempting this feat.

Point 11 almost seems redundant but the idea is there and point twelve just stood to reason.

Although there were no significant card production after the Second World War cards were produced.

You can reason from the cards that were produced it was unlikely the manufacturers of the cards were going to listen to the charter. Sticky-backs were produced, non-standard sized cards were also made. Certainly subjects were not listed on the front of the cards. Sets were produced in a mixture of horizontal and vertical formats and although there were a few sports series non really dealt with the personalities of the Second World War.

So there you have it.

I suspect most collectors would have hurled the charter straight in the bin if this was the difference between cigarette cards being packed in cigarettes and not. But that as they say is history