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Tuesday, 10th June 2008
What's it all about

At one time or another we all have all gone to the cupboard to discover it bare of anything remotely edible. In fact worse than that, there is a collection of food which have no right to be living in the same cupboard let alone the same plate. You realise shopping is necessary but for the time being you make the best of a bad job and settle down to a plate of assorted food.

This page has that cupboard just before the shopping is done feel to it. Basically my head is empty of any thought and a trip to the thought factory is needed but I am going to make do with all these disparate thoughts before that happens, a skull clearout if you like. It also has the happy consequence it gives me a chance to introduce you all to names rarely mentioned on this site, some early card issuers which fell by the wayside rather too early to make a significant impact on the world of card collecting. A great shame. A bit like that bottle of violent coloured alcohol you have at the back of the cupboard, long forgotten.

So settle down to a page of sausage, pork chops and choc-ice all washed down with a tin of warm beer (probably out of date but the idea of deciphering the date label on the thing is for brighter folk than me.)

'Sally in our Alley' sounds like something which would not be broadcast

I have been looking through an excellent tome, British Cigarette Card Issues 1888-1919. It is a collection of manufacturers, names of sets and checklists which is jolly bedtime reading for insomniacs. The liklihood of finding all these cards under one roof is next to zero (I've not looked at the British Library collection lately) but there is something fun about the checklists themselves. It all started with the Murray, Reproductions of Famous Works of Art D - series (1910) It is called, Famous Works of Art in the Murrays catalogue. There follows the Reproductions of High Class Works of Art C - series) (1910) Again the Murray catalogue drops the 'reproductions of' bit (1909 date). I am not quite sure why this is the case as the handbook says it is a titled series. Anyway that is a side issue. It is the descriptions of the cards themselves which is fun. Reproductions of Famous Works of Art. What do you expect, The Mona Lisa? Well she might be in there somewhere although I cannot find her. Either time has been unreasonably cruel to these famous works of art or I am missing the point. Take for example card 19, the handbook describes it as, 'Windmill with three people in foreground.' Not quite sure what that one is? Try card 24, 'Woman and two girls seated round a table.' That compares neatly with card card 16, 'Four people seated round a table in a room.' Now clearly when faced with these cards you have to identify them (the cards are un-numbered and without caption) but it would have been nice to know what these famous works of art were. This is almost modern art in its form, 'Cosmic Egg #1', 'Cosmic Egg #2' ad naseum.

Other series which are fun are the 'common phrases' type which seemed popular during this period. Some phrases are still with us unchanged, Cope, Kenilworth Phrases (1910) (adopted title) Card 17: 'When will you girls be ready?' seems like one that will always be with us. Although it does not seem to have the female version of the phrase, 'Are you changing before we go out?' in the set or the reply, 'What do you mean? I have changed.'. Clarke, Well Known Sayings [1900] has some rather strange sayings which really makes you want to see the card. Card 14, 'Now she feels it.' and Card 19, 'Skip the gutter Tottie' is obviously just plain unfortunate. Just for the record few of us say 'Pip! Pip!' anymore (card 18). Brits only say that on US sitcoms and Americans only say it on UK sitcoms. Strange world.

Players, Everyday Phrases by Tom Browne [1900] seems to have also stood the test of time but for the bizarre first card, 'Bring your music with you.' Perhaps this is the 'Come up and see my etchings' type thing or it is the culmination of being able to take the sort of drugs muched frowned upon nowadays.

Clarke seem to have managed some equally strange efforts in their Sporting Terms [1900] series. Most have stood the test of time but the very last card of the 50 card series perhaps shows my ignorance of things golf. All had been going well, 'A Bulger' is a bit odd but I can accept it, 'Dead on the green with his Second' doesn't overly concern me but, '27 1/2 Eclipse' is just plain baffling. Mind you in the 'Cycling' bit card 21, 'Gents, Ball Head, Standard Pattern', doesn't sound like something you are likely to be shouting across a crowded room.

Newbegin produced a set called Well-Known Songs [1900] which you can imagine are not that well known today. We are talking a hundred years, few remember last weeks number one nowadays. Things do not seem to change much though 5 of the 18 cards (24 now known) listed mention the word love which seems most important for hit record success according to statistics. Others have the feel of some bawdy numbers, 'Tom Bowling' seems to hold all manner of promise and 'Sally in our Alley' sounds like something which would not be broadcast. 'Love in the meadow' sounds all very dated, 'Love in the supermarket carpark' would bring it up to date. However card 2, 'A Little bit off the top' shows its versatility as it was also in the well-known phrases set.

Pezaro, Song Titles Illustrated [1900] has 25 cards seen but of the 14 I know about no mention of love in fact it is difficult to know exactly what is going on with this set, titles like, 'This is where I come in.' Mind you 'All I want is a little bit off the top' gets a mention. Obviously the 'Birdy Song' of its day.

B. Kriegsfeld & Co Phrases and Advertisements [1900] adopted title. And you thought flogging a theme to death came in with cheap television. They had a brand of cigarettes called 'Whiffs' which probably would not be a good advertising ploy nowadays, 'You gotta Whiff Mate' Is fighting talk. Anyway card 37, 'Stolen Whiffs are the Sweetest' has all manner of ramifications. Another one card 14, 'Burglars Reward' begins to make you wonder just how bright the advertising was even then. I suspect card 19, Cool and refreshing is alluding to Whiffs but quite why is beyond me. It sounds like smoking a bit of twisted rope dipped in tar to me.

Now one of the perils of looking through these books is the fact you realise just how much is missing from the records of early cigarette card history. The above set has a checklist put together from old records rather than cards seen. Then there is the set by Lea, More Lea's smokers [1906] an un-numbered series of 12 cards with two variations. Not really all that interesting apart from the fact nobody has seen a card from Lea's Smokers which really is about like discovering a door that leads nowhere. You have to let these thoughts go eventually because it could drive you completely over the edge if you let it.

I am not going down that route. It eventually leads to cards which have been seen once by a couple of people and never surfaced again, leaving blurry photocopies in the snow. Very Yeti like but more believable as it does not get you a slot on national television in Strange but True (maybe in a couple of years mind you, the way TV is going).

Morris produced some good sets but the set with the adopted title, General Interest (1910) was something of Friday afternoon set. It takes on the feel of holiday snaps. A few examples:

Card 13: Communication across the Channel by Ice Breaker

Card 14: The Ice Breaker

Card 15: The Ice Breaker at Work

Card 16: The Ice Breaker leaving the harbour

Card 17: The Ice Breaker on the look out.

Card 18: The Ice Breaker facing a vessel.

I am not going to list the riveting, Schools in Foregin Countries section of the set but please imagine for yourselves the excitement.

Then again Muratti, Midget Postcard series [1902] were basically holiday snaps, nobody is clear how many cards there are in this set. It is not thousands, more like a couple of hundred but the numbering system doesn't seem to bear much relation to the cards. Murrati felt they were on a winner at the early part of the century with these views, which put into historical context is not as cheesey as it appears today.

Cohen & Weenen produced a set called Fiscal Phrases which doesn't sound like a show-stopper (or have I been going to the wrong shows?) but it gets into its stride early, card 1, A big loafer,card 10: A little loafer, by which time you have learnt about A free fooder (card 7). Card 16 seems to have fallen into a backwater of use, Dumpophobia. So has card 24, For the Empire. Card 37: Reciprocity is just one of those words you can barely wait to use at the cocktail party, it really is a grown-up word that one. Say it before you have drunk too much, otherwise gales of laughter will be the result as your tongue twists in the wind. Any weakness in your delivery of the word will ensure someone asks you exactly what you mean by that, which should have you reaching for your coat in moments.

The Co-operative Wholesale Society produced the exciting title Co-operative Buildings and Works [1916]. Actually it is quite interesting as there are a number of places in the UK which are almost defined by their factories. I remember going past a coffee factory, the whole town smelt of coffee, like living in a large coffee cup, imagine a whole town living on a coffee atmosphere. Sugar Beet is not quite so alluring mind. The set makes you think about manufacturing and what a strange business it all is. Card 1, Bacon factory. Perhaps there really was a factory dedicated to making-bacon (hee-hee) but quite how I cannot imagine, what did they do with the rest of the pig. Then there was the Brush Works and a Biscuit Works which is more likely. Mind you quite what the Bristol Works was producing is left to a schoolboys imagination. The Butter factory seems as unlikely as the Bacon factory really. At least the Bucket and Fender works has a bit of variety as does the Jam & Marmalade Works. I doubt the Corset factory is still running. Most employees were doing okay working in factories but the Weavers Shed seems like a bit of a let down.

Of all the annoying things though are the checklists for the Conundrums sets. Drapkin is a case in point. Here are a few examples of the checklist:

1. How can a gardener become thrifty...

15. What is the difference between an inspiration...

30. When is a blow from a lady...

37. When is love deformed?

44. Why are gloves like pips?

72. Why is a tender hearted philanthropist...

and finally the mind-boggling:

81. Why is scooping out a turnip...

I will leave you with those thoughts as a warning to never let your mind become too empty and end up having to read books, it can really twist your melon man.