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The Best

You might as well start reading now whilst the images load on this page. There are a number and they will take a moment or two longer than the average page on this site but it would hardly be fair to tell you all about some of the best cards there are and not include images of the things, bit like listening to football on the radio. Next to each set is a check box, click on the box if you want to know how you can acquire the set of cards and at what price.

It is human nature to compare/contrast and otherwise examine. Cigarette cards are no different. Thousands of sets were produced but still there are always the 'classic' sets which almost everyone agrees are a cut above the rest.

Classic Cards:

This is an area fraught with all the difficulties of taste and belief. In the car world a 'classic' is pretty well defined, or at least the core-element of the classic car is. These are the E-type Jaguars, The Mustang and their ilk. Then there are the subset of 'classics', the Z-80, the Capri, the Mini.

An examination of what makes a classic car can help us in determining a classic set.

Note the fact that Rolls Royce do not really produce a 'classic' in the populist sense of the word. They just are not within the aspirations of the masses. So for this reason you will not be calling, Taddys Clowns and Circus Artistes a classic in the populist sense and you will not be finding it on the list below.

This is not to say quality, or at least perceived quality is not an important element in defining a classic. Keeping an E-Type on the road was an art in itself when they were new let alone now. However they have a certain rareity and excitement about them.

In the mid-70's you could hardly give the things away, they were not a popular car. So to be a classic there is no real need to have been appreciated at the time of going to press. In the case of cigarette cards this is difficult to determine although as tastes change sets do move in and out of fashion. For example I thought long and hard about including Players, Cats on this list. Cat ownership was not half as popular as dog ownership during the cigarette card period. As a result very few cat sets emerged. The one that did was an absolute beauty and I suspect when this list is updated Players, Cats will be on it.

Of interest here is also the fact a classic is not made, it is created. The early versions of the Mustang, the early version of the E-type, the early Z-80's these are classics. By the time US safety laws became important and ugly plastic bumpers were strapped onto beautiful lines or petrol prices rose things were beginning to look ugly. So often the sharp lines of the original become dulled by the desire of the manufacture to squeeze more sales out of it. How often has a film sequel been better than the original.

Exactly.

You will not be finding any second series listed in this set of cards. There are some series cards such as Players, Country Seats & Arms which would be foolish to split as they are intended to be a complete run of 150 cards. No, being first is important if you want to reach classic status. Please do not write in to tell me about the deliberate error in the list of cards, the more rules I make up the more likely they are to be broken.

Innovation:

Dare to be different. I suppose this goes hand in hand with the idea of daring to fail. The Mini is an example of this. It created a whole new concept, the small car. Instant classic.

Of the hundreds of sets which were produced on a sport theme or film themes not one has got into this list. Wills, Cricketers came very close to getting into the list and I must admit, if I had been compiling the list out of personal favourites (which is a different subject) then this set would have got in. Even if it had, as one of the first sets on a sporting theme it hardly destroys this definition of 'classic.'

Instead if you go down the list you find a pretty varied subject matter, The Story of Sand, now that is a set which dares to be different.

Finally price....

Price is obviously a function of demand and supply in a free market economy. If anyone knows of such a market then please drop me a line (I know the stock-market is often cited but it does not have perfect information and so rumour and panic seem to drive the price in that situation). The Model T Ford can be considered a classic as it brought car ownership to the masses. Classic does not have to mean exclusive. This is rather the reverse arguement of why the Rolls-Royce is not a populist classic. Looking down the list of classic cards you are going to find it would not need a second mortgage to complete the whole list. The most expensive being the Wills, Coronation Series. Indeed a few of them are in the budget range, under £15/$30

Did I compile the list with these basic rules in mind?

No, this list has been compiled from various other lists which have attempted to compile a list of classic cards and it is also a list of cards which crop up time and again in people's lists of must-have cards.

Afterall everyone knows what happens to things which have been created to be a classic by following a formula. The pop world is full of such examples 'made for success' groups floating about in the 'where are they now?' files and many more in the 'who cares' files.

You may notice some of the descriptions are perhaps less informative about the set than you would like. Fear not, a lot of the sets have hyperlinks after them, one click and you get to a page devoted to the whole set.

If you have an interest in any of the sets on this page just tick the associated box and I will send you discount price and availability information.

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Franklyn Cards : Selling a better grade of card for 25 years.
  Wills, Allied Army Leaders History has been kinder to some of these faces than others but at the time they were the best we had. Relics from previous wars who often failed to grasp the cavalry charge was not the answer against machine guns. A wonderfully illustrated set. Also the fact it had a number of printings means you can collect variations of particular cards when promotions and deaths had altered the text. Wills Allied Army Leaders [1917]
Set of 50
  Tin Plate Workers (those were the days) Wills had something of an obsession with arms of the motto variety. Arms of this Arms of that and the Borough Arms series was surely created just to make sorting out piles of cards a nightmare. Sometimes determination pays dividends (rather than accumulates court orders not allowing you to get within 2 miles). I like this subject matter because I have more interest in Companies than I do Bishops, and I do believe the feeling is mutual. Wills Arms of Companies [1913]
Set of 50
  For some reason the text from which this page was culled and adapted decided Churchmans, Celebrated Gateways was the classic set. I am not having any of that elitist nonsense. Have the Players set instead, its the same, issue, its before Churchmans and its less expensive. If that is not having your cake, eating it and someone else paying for it, I don't know what is. Players, Celebrated Gateways [1909]
Set of 50
    There was a stage when push out cards were the thing to be seen producing. Fortunately this was not an idea which caught on. Still enough people think they deserve a place in the sun and the set concept is a good one. Ogden Children of all Nations [1924]
Set of 50
    An early set showing all the attributes of these ventures. These were the days when there was a lot more Royalty floating about and were powerful respected people not just media events to sell newspapers. Wills Coronation Series [1902]
Set of 50
    CWS Famous Buildings [1935]
Set of 48
  Firefighters do not have many cards they can turn to if they wish to see their profession upon the cards. This is one of the few and it is a good 'un. So not only does it get on this list because of its unusual subject matter, it is also here because it deserves to be. Players Fire fighting appliances [1930]
Set of 50
  Flowers in pots. Wills were the great producers of the flowery series, although not the exclusive producers. It was a close call between this series and the earlier Alpine Flowers issue. This won because it used a black background and it works well. Wills Flower Culture in Pots [1925]
Set of 50
  If you are going to do a bird set and get it in amongst the classics it has to be a good one. Ogdens did just that with this series with the added allure of them being foreign birds, always more appealing than the local variety. Ogden Foreign Birds [1924]
Set of 50
    I have a soft spot for this set of cards if only because it is pretty old and remains well priced. Again a series which scores highly on the originality scale. Should be in everyones collection. Hignett Greetings of the World [1907]
Set of 25
    Wills ran a series of architecture during the First World War. Probably to remind everyone what was being fought over in Europe. Certainly the composer did not lose too much time in reminding the cigarette smoking public and good deal of the towns shown were occupied or close to that status. Wills Gems of French Architecture [1917]
Set of 50
    There were quite a few sets on the subject of Empire, Players Empire Series was an early charmer but the Churchmans set which charts the rise of the Empire is the one for this page. Mind you in 1934 it was becoming something of a history lesson rather than a current affairs set. Churchman History & development of the British Empire [1934]
Set of 50
  There is a strong connection between tobacco and the sea and so many sets were dedicated to things nautical. This one takes a slightly different approach in showing the dress rather than the ships (and you may have noticed the way to get on this page is to tackle a well known subject in a slightly different manner). Rich colours, well illustrated. Player History of Naval Dress [1930]
Set of 50
    There are a lot of sets out there which depict the royal family. Coronations were a favourite time for feeling Royal-all-over. It therefore has to be a pretty special Royal set to scramble its way onto this list. I know there is another Royalty theme set on the list but this is the one everyone buys. Players Kings & Queens of England [1935]
Set of 50
    Churchman Landmarks of Railway Progress [1931]
Set of 50
  You have few choices when trying to locate cards with lighthouses on them. ATC produced an early set which is difficult to find and harder to pay for. Societe Job produced British Lighthouses for the UK market and then there is this set Wills produced for the New Zealand market, it is also the least expensive of the lot as well as being visually very impressive. A theme low in numbers but high in quality. Wills Lighthouses [1925]
Set of 50
  The lack of Wills, The Worlds Dreadnought (or indeed Wills Aviation) is almost unforgiveable but if this set had not been included the list could have been rendered almost meaningless. The date of issue, 1924, means the Titanic is not in the set which is a mixed blessing, as it keeps the price of the set down and means I do not get asked endlessly for that one card. It deserves to be in this list, great set. Wills Merchant ships of the World [1924]
Set of 50
    There are a few sets on the subject of Pottery (notably RJ Lea who must have had shares in the stuff) but Ogdens has stolen the crown for the inclusion in this list. A friend of mine turned me on to the wonders of pottery and indeed some of the stuff is really just wonderful. I stick with bits of card though because if I drop them I don't break them. Ogden Modern British Pottery [1925]
Set of 50
    Again a different theme. There are not many cards devoted to the Motor Cyle. Not really sure why although it might have something to do with the aspirant nature of the motor car for so many people of this period. A set that does its job well, just a shame there are not more of them. Lambert & Butler Motor Cycles [1923]
Set of 50
  Mines a set of these please Barman, and have one for yourself. Why not the first series you ask me. Well I'll tell you, the colour scheme of the second series seems just a little more balanced top my brown and mild eyes. Wills Old Inns (2nd series) [1939]
Large format 40
  There are a number of issuers of things Poultry and certainly it has to be a close call between these and some of the Ogdens sets. However in the straw pole these came out the favourites. White board cards are a nightmare because of all the ways they can be made grubby but other than that no problems. Well illustrated in a time when everyone seemed to have a chicken running about the backgarden. Shame intensive farming has reduced them all to pretty much the same breed stuck in tiny cages with beaks clipped so they don't peck each others eyes out once the brains have turned. Still these are cards from the good old days when you kept chickens so you could eat eggs in the morning, because your family was so dirt poor they couldn't afford to buy them. Happy times. Players Poultry [1931]
Set of 50
  Not the earlier version of the set you will see. A less cluttered approach to the card and all the better for it. In a world where everything seems to grow on hypermarket sheleves all year round it is nice to remember there was a time when there were seasons (turn turn turn). Just as we were getting used to the stuff the war came along and yes, we have no bananas. Players Products of the World [1928]
Set of 50
    Can you believe it another set that tackles an unusual theme. Pigeons were darn important as messengers and many won awards for bravery, flying in the face of enemy fire. They saved a good many lives and you could eat them afterwards. Ogden Racing Pigeons [1931]
Set of 50
    Players Riders of the World [1905]
Set of 50
    R&J Lea Ships of the World [1925]
Set of 50
    Gallaher Sporting Personalities [1936]
Set of 48
    Ardath Stamps, Rare and interesting [1939]
Set of 50
    Churchman The Story of London [1934]
Set of 50
  Sand as fire-extinguisher. What fun will it get up to next? You would think this was pretty dry stuff but Ogdens turn it into a classic and this was before silicon chips inside their heads. You would never think sand had so much going for it and I've got thousands of tons just outside my window here. No wonder they make it illegal to remove it, I'd be a millionaire by now. Ogden The story of Sand [1934]
Set of 50
    Wills Time & Money in different countries [1908]
Set of 50
    Players Wild Birds [1932]
Set of 50
    Wills Wild Flowers [1923]
Set of 50
    Churchman Wonderful Railway Travel [1937]
Set of 50
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I am not saying this list is in anyway definitive but I am prepared to argue the merits of each of these sets. It is surprising just how often these sets come up in all the e-mails I receive. In fact I would go so far as to say one of the above sets is mentioned at least once a day. The list is there to be challenged, if you have any firm opinions or think there is a set I have not included which should be (almost certainly there is) I am always willing to listen to collectors old and new stating an opinion.