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Monday, 23rd February 2009
Cigarette cards : A brief history.

Cigarette card 'history' is forever changing. Rather like fossils, one discovery can change the entire picture. In the card collecting world this happens rather more frequently than the archeological. This is part of the fun, you and I can actually find cards which have never been recorded before, mind you it helps if you know which ones have already been recorded.

The cigarette card was introduced as a packet stiffener to add integrity to the paper cigarette packets. Virginia tobacco was the first to introduce them in the US.

Always keen to find another advertising medium this was how the cards came to be used.

Then around 1880 pictures appeared on the one side and a list of their products on the other. Rather disappointingly the picture was usually a packet of cigarettes but its a start.

Britian picked up the idea from the US having first appeared in US branded cigarettes in about 1886. The firm of Allen & Ginter were at the forefront of this enterprise. WD & HO Wills became the first UK manufacturer introducing the cards two years later.

It has been approximated that around 1,800 sets were created during this period

It took another 2 years before coloured pictures began to appear that had little to do with advertising. Almost all the early cards had a strong nautical theme, due to the idea that sailors were major consumers of tobacco. Edward Bok has been given the credit for introducing information on the rear of the cards.

The exact progression of cigarette card early history is forever being rewritten as new discoveries are made.

The Golden Age

1900-1917, can be considered the golden age of the cigarette card, or stiffener, as they were always known in the trade.

The influence of James B Duke which created the Imperial Tobacco company and the subseqent tobacco war (1901-2) and the creation of BAT brought about a huge increase in the numbers and variety of cigarette cards in circulation.

During this period there was an estimated 150 manufacturers producing cigarette cards. It has been approximated that around 1,800 sets were created during this period and are some of the most prized sets about.

Soon Europe was in the throes of conflict and cigarette card production was reduced because of the requirements of all manner of raw materials, card being one. Card production did continue till 1917 although many of the sets were very war influenced. Even sets which seemed to have nothing to do with the war were affected. Wills, Musical Celebrities (Series 2) [1914] were one of the first card casualties. Eight cards depicted people of Germanic origin. Wills decided it was not opportune to issue these cards and put eight substitute cards in their place. Most of the original cards were pulped but some survived and are now some of the most sort after cards around. The same company was also to fall foul of something of an own goal, Wills, Waterloo. Was a set celebrating the victory over France. It was about to be released when hostilities erupted and France were our allies. It was decided that the set should not be issued in case it caused offence. The issue was pulped although some did survive and once again they are some of the most sort after sets of the period.

Carreras, Raemakers War Cartoons [1916] did their bit for the war effort. A rather nasty attack on the Germanic race on card. Such was the impact on these cards there was a rumour the enemy placed a price on Raemakers head. If there was one it was never collected, the set went on for 140 cards.

I can't imagine the Kaiser being upset about this.

Gallaher, Victoria Cross was a series of sets which just kept going, published, [1915],[1916],[1917] being eight sets in all, 25 cards in each. They also issued The Great War Series [1915] series 1 & 2 each set ran into 100 cards. Many firms issued cards on the theme of deeds of daring do involving the Victoria Cross.

It was during that period that some of the sets were 'Passed by the censors.' Then again others were not.

There were also a great many sets devoted to army cap badges, military insignia, flags of nations and other such items. However 1917 really does represent the date when effectively the card ran out.

Details from Card
Card 131: Slow asphyxiation.This cartoon shows the awful results of the use of the German poison gas, under the influence of which men fight for breath and endure untold agonies for days, generally dying from the poisonous effects. The use of poison gas in war is a purely German invention, reluctantly adopted by the Allies after Germany had begun to use it.
The 1930's

Printing had started again in 1922 Players, Cries of London.[1922] A reprint of a pre-war set as were a number of the cards which were issued in this period. Presumably this was to get card production kicked off as fast as possible.

Trivia buffs might like to know (before you write in about it) Players, Artillery in Action [1917] was probably not issued until 1920 but it does stand as a 1917 set and this and other matters should be taken into consideration when considering the dates of cards which can be a little fluid depending on where you consider a card comes into being.

By the 1930's the hobby was as active as ever and many older collectors have good memories of this period. It was during this time that the first clubs and shops appeared to cater for the hobby.

Players Cries of London [1922]

The 1930's can be considered as the hey-day of the cigarette card hobby with vast amounts of cards being produced.

The war had created a huge growth in technology and card subjects reflected this, there were many sets on the subjects of Aircraft, Motor Cars, and Ships.

There was also an explosion in Sporting themes, Cricket ,Football, and almost any other sport Britain was involved in. It was also the time the cinema was becoming a big attraction and many sets were devoted to Film Stars of the day.

In recently reviewing some older magazines I came across 'Cigarette Card News, October 1939.' There is a small piece, Notes on Current Series by C.L Porter:'.

My notes this month are on the lines of most war-time communiques. There is nothing to report. Not a single new series issued and presumably there may be some doubt as to when we will get any.

Eric Gurd, CCN Oct 1939.

Mr Chamberlain had broadcast a state of war to a hushed Britain on the fateful day of 3rd September, 1939.

World War II

Unfortunately the Second World War saw the production of cigarette cards ceasing once more. In a country that was facing all manner of shortages they were an unnecessary waste. As a sideline it is interesting to note that the side panels of cigarette packet innards were removed to save card and labels on tins were reduced to save paper. It is therefore hardly surprising that cigarette cards were abandoned. An average run for a set of cigarette cards could take up to 40 tons of paper. Afterwards the cards failed to attract the same sort of following as they had before. Carrera's did continue production through the 1950's and 60's distributing them through the 'Turf' cigarette brand.

Amalgamated Tobacco Corporation did issue a number of sets in the Channel Islands during the fifties and sixties but once again the standard of printing had fallen off.

During this period the companies were considering re-issuing the cigarette cards but despite printing them they were never distributed.

Becoming the Unissued cards of the 50's

In 1976 Carreras did a number of re-issues within the Black Cat series but the trend had shifted to the cigar packets and the trade issues, most notably Brooke Bond.