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Saturday, 5th July 2008

ou might wonder why Churchmans could only produce 25 cards for a set entitled, Sports & Games in Many Lands [1929] I cannot tell you. Even more bizarre if you consider the last two relate to the US alone. Scotland also get a mention as does Ireland. Canada get two cards, Alaska one and India three. Germany get two for heavens sake and England get one, more of that later.

Given these statistics there should have been a set of 50 cards or perhaps a second series. This set is difficult to get hold off because the US market has plundered many of the sets for the final two cards in the series. A good many dealers I speak to do not have complete sets for this reason. That is the way the market develops whether I like it or not.

This lack of cards is even more lamentable when you see the set itself. High quality art work with marvellous colour balance, even faces no more than 3mm high have expressions which can be read. It has quality stamped all over it.

So perhaps that is your answer. You can get quality, you can get quantity, but you rarely can have both. I would rather have one quality card than any number of poor quality cards.

I have not finished complaining yet <g>. Although the set announces it is sport and games in many lands by card 2 things begin to go a bit of target. 'Primitive hunting in Alaska' announces the title and the illustration is of a fur clad man creeping across the icy waste with bow and arrow poised for action. It is stretching the point to suggest this man is indulging in any sort of game or sport unless you widen the concept to include survival, as he goes hunting for his lunch.

for the most part only animals have been in danger of serious injury in the sports highlighted

Okay so the set is a flawed genius but imagine a genius without flaw, insufferable (even if the flaw is believing they are flawless, it is pretty grim).

So far so good, the chap is hunting for food and survival, even the most bead wearing amongst us can accept the need to kill for food and if they cannot then let them find a veggie burger in Alaska in 1929. See if the Eskimo can find some man made fibres to dress you in when it gets a bit chilly.

Details from Card 5
After the Hunt, East Africa.
East Africa is a paradise for the big-game hunter, for it abounds in game of all kinds. Besides elephants, buffalos, lions and leopards, many various antelope afford good sport. The magnificent horns of some of the latter are much prized by East African hunters. The natives employed for finding and tracking game are highly skilled in this difficult craft, which is only rarely acquired by Europeans. Animals are now strictly preserved in certain areas in East Africa.

But what is this, hardly have the bean brigade calmed down with a display of Canadian Ice Hockey and a bit old Ski-Jöring, again courtesy of the Canadians, than we are greeted with a rather well drawn scene from Africa.

This has the lot. Two animal carcases are slumped in the foreground, one lying over three other carcases, thankfully they seem to be part of the deer family (you'll see why I am content with this in a minute). Afican natives are around a fire with a cooking pot on it. In the background the elder sits on a tree trunk, sporting a fez, he is talking to a fellow that looks mighty European. I think this picture is saying a thousand words but just for good measure they put some on the reverse of the card for us all, just to make sure we are under no illusions. Well at least the final sentence should give some small comfort to those who deplore such seemingly mindless behaviours.

But what is this?

Such cruel fate for the tree-huggers, card six is England. Where perhaps you could expect to see a football being kicked about a pitch (used to be a pigs bladder I believe). But no, there is a pack of dogs, hang on, they are hounds. There is a fellow on a horse, he is wearing hunting pink. Good grief Churchmans have decided to depict fox-hunting to represent England. I am trying to rack my brains but I do not think they could have found a more explosive sport as viewed 70 years later if they had tried.

What the front of the card lacks in graphic detail the skillful writing on the reverse conveys admirably well. In fact I am not even going to repeat what it says on the reverse of the card, it would be too much, there would be veggie burgers all over the floor.

In all honesty if this sort of thing depicted on cigarette cards is not your sort of thing then this set is not for you. I actually thought people were pretty calm about these sort of pictures but two things have totally changed my view. The first is the art gallery which is the House of Commons where MP's were falling over themselves not to end up with hunting scenes on the wall.

The second was a program where neighbours decorate on another houses with predictable results. One of the participants nearly burst into tears as their neighbour had breated a zebra skin print on the walls. There it was in black and white paint, strippy and obviously one the most horrifying things she had ever seen.

Much has changed in the 70 years since the production of this set and you do have to accept society evolves. In England we no longer force small children up chimneys to clean them (although it could well return if real fires made a comeback) but we still think it is character building to make them drag heavy bags full of newspapers door to door before school come rain or snow.

Lets face it, we are the top of the food chain and if we show compassion for anything beneath us on that chain we are about the only things in the animal kingdom that does. And please don't tell me we are the only things that kill for sport, give a cat a mouse and watch the fun they have. Sure they might nibble a bit of it afterwards but its only a token effort at best.

Cruelty is being forced to watch England in any sport. Give our national side to a foreign side and see how much fun they extract out of us. Three lions on our shirt, is as maybe, but when was the last time a lion roamed free in England, mice might not have the same appeal though.

Back to the plot.

The set is full of 'sport' which involves animals dying.

You have to remember to put these cards into historical context. This set was produced in 1929. Go back to 1907 and you come to Mitchell, Sports which includes the card about Otter-hunting. Just imagine that as a sport.
Whilst on the subject allow me to tell you a story about maggot racing which you can adopt and adapt for your own purposes. A good few years ago maggot racing was sweeping the nations pubs/bars. This would always occasion a good deal of shouting and good humour and not a few people. I never really got into the swing of the events but for one unfortunate incident. Quite late in the evening I caught my toe on one of the many feet which were cluttering the floor and stumbled forward. I chose too stop my rapid descent by putting out my hands in reflex, which had the side-effect of wiping out the grand final, having crushed a good many of the sporting legends with my arm. I left with the sort of speed maggots can only dream of. I'm laughing now just recounting this story, maybe you had to be there.

Card 9, Shooting Wild Boar in Germany. The card notes the wild boar is extinct in England, obviously we were betting at shooting them than the Germans.

There is a certain lament that most of the excitement has gone out of this pastime since the passing of the age of the spear and the pack of dogs which was the traditional method. For those of you which harken back to such days then card 11 is just for you. Pig-Sticking in India. Again the card laments the reduction in the number of bear in the area so the local sportsmen have had to move onto wild boar. Lucky then, they appear to put up an even more sport. Again the sportsmen look suspiciously white.

In most of the sports above I do not have much of a view. Fox hunting for example seems pretty indefensible but once muddle-thinking politicians with an eye on easy votes start sticking their oar in for no clear ideological reason I am on the side of pro-choice instantly.

Mind you being the perverse creature I am the second a politician tries to defend the indefensible, in an effort to glean votes I'm on them like a pack of rabid hounds. It is a simple lesson we should all learn, where there is only shades of grey you can never be right and never be wrong, just true to yourself. Sometimes though thinking gets in the way of doing and doing is sometimes all that is needed.

Details from Card 12
Polo, India
Polo is an ancient game which seems to have spread from Persia all over the East. The name is derived from the Tibetian world 'pulu' which means ball. In the 26th and 16th cents. the game was popular throughout India, but in the troubled times which followed Polo was forgotten expect on the borders of Tibet and in Manipur. In 1864 men from the latter district visited Calcutta and played there. Since that time Polo has grown steadily in popularity and is now known in its modern form all over the world. The governing body of Polo in India is the Indian Polo Association which was formed in 1891.

At card 13 though I finally I draw the line in the sand. Tiger hunting. Sport should have an element of risk within it, but sitting on top of an elephant shooting at tigers does not seem too risky, at least not for the chap on top of an elephant with a gun. Again the card notes the rapidly declining tiger population making it rare in districts it was once plentiful.

So far I have been rather one-dimensional in the treatment of this set. So let me redress the balance somewhat, just to prove even in 1929 there was more to sport around the world than killing dumb animals.

Lets stick with India, card 12, Polo. A rather elitist sport but none the less amazingly skillful for all that.

There is a vague possibility there is so much emphasis on bloodsports because it is pretty easy to describe. Once you get into the area of trying to explain a national game it becomes pretty obvious the reverse of a cigarette card is not the place. Just imagine trying to explain cricket in 100-120 words. Anyway there are various attempts made, some more succesful than others.

On card 7, Pelota is described to us. A national pastime of the French apparently (and Spain). It seems to be a team version of squash, only played outside. The bats used are the most curious of inventions and it would seem horrific amounts of skill are required. The ball is caught in a bat which appears to be as long as a man's arm, curved and hollowed out. Once the hard rubber ball is caught it is hurled at a wall (there is a front wall and one or two side walls the height of which is not mentioned but the card illustrates a wall which would do justice to a three storey house) from which it bounces and must be gathered up in by a member of the opposing team. The card notes the bat enables the ball to be hurled with tremendous force, underlined by the fact the bat is strapped to the players arm.

Well the French have a name for it at least.

Ireland (card 10) is put down for Hurling ( a subject on which Wills devoted a whole set). Described as a cousin of hockey, with 17 players aside and liable to become quite rough. Quite how rough 34 people armed with hockey sticks could be is left to the imagination, but I imagine if they were tiger hunting it would be quite something to see.

The illustration is reportedly taken from the All-Ireland Hurling Final, 1927 played by Dublin and Cork.

Moving over to the US card 24 describes, American Football which is described as much more complicted than the English Rugby game. This goes someway to determining why I have never a clue as to what is going on and why it should take all day to play it.

Card 25 introduces us to baseball is another all-American pastime. Strangely enough England has a version of baseball but for the most part it is played by school girls.

That bit is true but rather unfair to baseball which is another game whose complexities totally baffle this simple Brit. Although related it seems there might not be much connection between the two sports. The card notes that 100 years earlier, schoolboys in the North Atlantic States played a game called, One Old Cat; Town-ball from there it becomes surreal although it doesn't look like a cat was involved for which we can be thankful I suppse. The card finally notes attempts have been made to establish baseball in England but have failed.

Details from Card 17
Ski-ing, Norway
Ski (pronounced Shee) were used in ancient time in many parts of the world. As a sport, however, Ski-ing began in the Telemark district of Norway about 1860. It spread rapidly, and besides having become the national sport of that country, it is now practised wherever winter sports are possible. In Norway, great international competitions are held in which the jumping contests usually come first. The take-off for jumping is built into the side of a hill and has a sliding approach of about 100 yds. On reaching this point the jumper takes a leap and alights some 100 to 130 feet below.

Scotland are put on the world sporting map with Curling. A game of much tactical thought and skill and one so dull too watch it can bring me too tears. In the recent Olympics we were forced to watch hour after hour of this tedium under the pretext Great Britain were going to win a medal. In the event we didn't and we were quickly reminded the Great Britain team was in fact Scottish. Wonder if we would have been reminded if they had medals swinging about their necks? Actually I don't wonder I know we would not.

Now for the most part only animals have been in danger of serious injury in the sports highlighted but it is typical of man that serious injury can be considered part of sport. Card 17, Ski-ing, Norway. The illustration is off a fellow flying through the air with the greatest of ease taking part in that well known journey to hospital called ski-jumping.

Card 22 has a certain element of insanity. Bob-sleighing. If you think this is the stuff of daring-do today forget that. Seventy years ago you required your fear glands to be surgically removed. The card depicts four blokes lying on something resembling a bedsted on skates hurtling down the bob run at St Moritz. Going head first, no helmets are in evidence (although some fine haircuts seem likely to soften the inevitable blow to the head) which given the fact there is also no safety netting at the time and every possibility of the bob flying off the track and into the trees it hardly mattered if your head was protected because your sweater clad body was not going to survive anyway. Pure madness and no doubt great fun.

This is by no means all the cards from this set but whether you agree with some of the sports or not you cannot deny this is a first rate set of cigarette cards.