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Saturday, 17th May 2008
A city cries

good few years ago I read an article about the demise of the cigarette card as a giveaway and in this work the author imagined himself a fly on the wall of a boardroom meeting between WD and HO Wills. Magically they had sprung back to life and were deciding on what the subject matter was going to be for the next set of cards. Clearly the author was of a mind the modern world was not capable of supporting a set of 50 interesting subjects for a set of cards.

This the author contended was the real reason for the lack of cigarette cards in packets of cigarettes today. Could be some truth in that. However if the author had chosen JD & WG Player the conversation would have been different.

JD: 'Crickey, WG we need an idea for another set of cigarette cards.'

WG: 'So I see. How about the World Cup, you know footballers and the like.'

JD: 'Holy smoke, WG I swear I'll brain you if you suggest another sports set.'

WG: 'How about the Winter Olympics, we have just won a bronze.'

JD: Clearly struggling to control himself.

WG: Moving quickly on, 'Remember after the First world war we re-issued a number of sets we had previously done.'

JD: 'Hmmm'

WG: 'Well why not update some of the sets we have done previously. At least until the grey cells are working again.'

JD: A little more animated now, 'Not a bad idea. Anything in mind?'

WG: 'Well, I had been thinking of the Cries of London series we issued before the First World War.'

JD: Always the more animated of the two, leaps to his feet, inspiration glowing in his face: 'WG you've still got it!'

Three weeks later WG & JD compared notes for the set.

JD: 'Okay this is what I have got at the moment: Card One, 'Stop thief!' Card Two: 'Get outta my way.' Card Three: '50 pence for a cup-a-tea.' Card Four: 'Big Issue.'

WG: Cutting in seeing which way the set was going, 'For goodness sake JD, this is the capital of cool you are talking about here.'

JD: 'Have you been out there?'

WG: 'Well no...'

JD: 'Well those were the coherent cries from the sober which could be printed. Our illustrators could have a chap huddled under a bundle of blankets in a shop doorway. Card five is better; 'Got a cigarette mate.'

WG: 'You were against this idea from the start.'

There I am afraid we are going to have to leave the boardroom of Players and Sons before things get ugly. Needless to say you are not going to see a modern version of Cries of London in the near future.

So we are left with the old series to look at and there is no harm in that.

In total five series were issued, but we can break that down a bit.

Two of the sets were large format cards with ten cards in the series. These were issued in 1912 & 1914 respectively.

I find this quite interesting (for no good reason) as the two series of normal size cards were actually issued after the large series cards. Series A was issued in 1913 and Series 2, 1916.

Those of you following the plot have counted four series. Well nothing is simple in this world and series 2 actually had two print runs, one being in the more common blue the other being in the rarer black printing. There is a price difference. The black back being four times more expensive.

The art work on the cards is of the highest quality. It is actually considered one of the finest sets of cards available. Each card demonstrates the trade that is associated with the particular cry. The individual plies his trade on a street with cobblestones and wonderful backdrops. You could almost imagine yourself being there. Okay lets get back to reality before I spiral into the sort of superlatives left for wine buffs, although let me just say these cards are oaty-wheaty with a twist of lemon and an after taste which strips the leather from the soles of your shoes.

Now when I was a young chap a fellow used to come around and sharpen our knives, shears and this sort of thing. His bike was equipped with a grind stone and the like. That is about my limit of knowledge when it comes to travelling craftsman. Fortunately in 1913 things were a little better.

Card 21 shows my knife sharpener. The cry 'Knives to grind'. The card notes the clumsy apparatus of the knife grinder has changed little. The card also notes that in the 18th Century the knife grinder charged 1 penny or two penny to sharpen a pair of scissors and two shillings for a dozen table knives. Pretty expensive really and demonstrates the sort of food being consumed. When was the last time you needed sharpened table knives to get through the food on your plate.

It is interesting to note the difference in attitude between now and then. Perhaps you have had your scissors and knives sharpened lately but I haven't. Today is a throwaway society, not that I have thrown out any scissors and knives lately but you know what I mean. Card 22 has the cry, 'Have you any old chairs to mend?' This cry was first heard in about 1650. The charge from four-pence to a shilling for smaller repairs and for recovering a rush matted chair eighteen-pence to half a crown.

Players, Cries of London Series One. Cats and Dogs Meat. Lovely carve me some of that.

Again how many people get chairs repaired nowadays. I have a storage space with plenty of chairs in various states of disrepair hanging from the rafters. Unless they are special there is no economic method of repairing them. Mass production has done away with many of these tasks.

Modernity has also removed the need for card 7, 'Bellows to mend!' The card does note that along with the chair mender they have long since disappeared from the city streets. The Bellow-mender would carry his tools in a leather bag strapped to his back. I am not sure if this differentiates him from other types of repairmen as the card also mentions he is likely to take on the trade of tinker as well.

For plain bizarre you are going to have to go quite a long way to beat card 2, 'Band Boxes!' The chap would wonder about with boxes strung on a pole by the look of it. The trick was the boxes were covered in coloured paper. Prices ranged from 6 pence to 6 shillings. I am none of wiser.

Card Four is the sort of product you can only dream of selling, 'Sand, Ho!' Well dream about if you live on the coast like me anyway.

Once more this harks back to a time when water did not run straight into houses and so was rather less plentiful than it was today. Sand was bought in large quantities so that kitchen utensils could be cleaned. Freshly scrubbed floors were also strewn with sand to protect them from muddy footprints. As the card notes, a carpet of small expense and easy to renew. Not so good when a draft gets under the door though.

Another product which seems slightly odd to us today is card 10, Water Cresses! Most of us have seen water cress growing in country streams and to be able to 'harvest' it and sell it on the streets seems like easy money to me. Mind you I am not sure how much of the stuff you had to sell to make a living. None of these town 'criers' seems to be millionaires.

Card 6 is another one of those products, 'Crumpling Codlings' was the familiar cry of this street vendor in the 18th century. Alternatively there was the shortened form, 'Crumplings!' In the winter months this was modified to, 'Hot Codlings! All Hot!'

So what was this person shouting about, does someone shouting 'Crumpling Codlings' need urgent medical assistance? Well no, apples are being plied by such vendors. Unsurprisingly the card suggests large quantities of apples were brought to the capital on a daily basis.

So far it has been a pretty uncontencious series of cards, all healthy fayre but wait for the next set.

Card 5 has the call of Rabbits! pretty self-explanatory and so is card 8, Cats' and Dogs' Meat!

Hmm, now I cannot ascertain if it is food for the dog/cat, or food comprising of dog and cat, probably both really. The card notes the occupation was run exclusively by women. Quite what that has to do with the price of a cup of tea I am not sure but that is what the card says.