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Sunday, 22nd June 2008

A Look at German Cards

or Putting the Karte before the Horst

Cigarette card collecting is almost unknown in Germany nowadays. Yet until the second world war, the Germans had a long tradition of collecting cigarette and trading cards. Before the first world war, cards were generally trading cards, with cigarette cards being few and far between. Actually the first pictures were not cards at all but rather were printed on the packaging. Stollwerk, a chocolate manufacturer in Cologne, was the first German company to put pictures on its products in 1840. Later, around 1860, the first "Picture and Photograph Chocolate" appeared, with pictures of portraits, buildings and landscapes printed on the wrapping. One series for example showed the building of Cologne cathedral. Various other series followed. However very few of these early pictures survive.

In Liebig1872 the Liebig company issued the first of its famous "Reklamebilder" (Advertising pictures). These were large format pictures, given away with the products. To stay ahead, Stollwerk produced high-quality pictures, often printed in a 12-colour process with competitions for original pictures which had prizes of up to 1000 Reichsmarks. In 1895 Stollwerk produced the first albums for collecting the pictures, which included explanatory text after 1897. The idea of collecting cards gradually caught on, and by the turn of the century, virtually every German product included collectable pictures. Cigarettes however were the exception. Until the first world war smoking was a luxury past time. If men smoked at all it was usually cigars or a pipe and woman generally didn't smoke at all, at least not in public. Few cigarette cards are known from the time before 1920. Only a handful of sets are listed in Koeberich's catalogue, as well as a patriotic booklet issued by the German branch of Waldorf-Astoria. No dates are given for the cards although the booklet was probably issued in the Winter of 1917/1918.

Lady Emma Hamilton from Reemtsma's Figures from World History (Quarter size)

The first world war put a virtual stop to issuing pictures, with only two companies listed as issuing cards after 1916. It also changed the general attitude towards smoking. During the war, large numbers of cigarettes were handed out to the troops in the trenches and afterwards smoking was much more widely accepted as a result. The first series of cigarette cards listed after the war is "Dresden and Sachsen Switzerland" issued by Delta Cigarettes of Dresden in 1921. However this is listed as their fourth series, so the other three were presumably earlier, although no dates are given. Reemtsma of Hamburg-Bahrenfeld issued a series of 267 "Small Pictures" (Kleine Bilder) in 1923. These pictures were issued printed on the inside of the packet lids as well as in card format.

Reemtsma also introduced the idea of picture coupons. Instead of including cards in the packets, they contained numbered coupons. When a set of coupons had been collected, they could be sent off to the "Cigaretten Bilderdienst" (Cigarette picture service) in exchange for a set of pictures. This had several advantages for collectors. Firstly, they always got a set of mint pictures. Because they were no longer restricted by the size of the packet, large format pictures were possible. It was also possible to obtain older sets as the cards were usually kept in print for several years. In fact sometimes millions of copies of a set were produced. And one didn't get left with half a set of cards when the ones in the packets were changed. Of course it also took a lot of the fun out of collecting but then Germans are only allowed to have fun on special occasions anyway.

Albums for the pictures were published which were much more elaborate than the usual English ones. They took the form of books published without pictures, and the cigarette pictures were stuck in to provide the illustrations. Over a period of time the completed albums built up into a large-scale reference work. As reference works the albums were undoubtedly successful. A colleague of mine has several albums which he inherited from his father and he still refers to them from time to time.

A Heron from Reemtsma's Germany's Birdworld (Quarter size)

The rise to power of the Nazis in 1933 brought an assortment of picture series with corresponding themes such as Germany Awakens, Fight for the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler, The Wehrmacht, etc. as well as the more conventional subjects. The series were sometimes changed to make them politically "correct" such as when the leader of the SA changed after the Roehm-Putsch of 1934. Two versions of Germany Awakens are listed - the Roehm edition and the Lutze Edition. The outbreak of world war two in 1939 once again put a virtual stop to the issuing of pictures. After 1940 it was largely newspaper companies which issued new pictures. Reemtsma's infamous anti-British series Raubstaat England (Robber State England) accounted for a lot of the wartime issues of cigarette pictures with the 300,000th album being printed in 1941. According to Koeberich, the last coupons were exchanged in 1943, although this may not be correct since Raubstaat England was certainly produced well into 1944.

After the war, cards never really got going again although a few sets were issued in both East and West Germany. The last cigarette cards were issued in 1958, leaving the market, as it had begun, to trading cards. The original company Stollwerk still issues the odd set now and again.

Compared with British sets, German sets of cards tend to be enormous. British sets are rarely above 50 cards whereas German sets often contain several hundred pictures and a few sets contained over 1000 pictures. Amusingly, Aurelia Cigarettes of Dresden issued various series between 1932 and 1939 with generally 150 to 250 pictures in the set, a set of football pictures from 1937 even having 390 pictures. An exception is a set issued in 1935 with only 40 pictures. The title? German Humour!

Anyone collecting cigarette cards and pictures in Germany nowadays is likely to find that most cards on offer are pictures stuck in albums and that most of those will be Reemtsma/ Hamburg-Bahrenfeld series. What seems unusual to British collectors is that the price for a set of pictures stuck in an album is the same as for ones that aren't. The pictures were produced to be stuck in albums and so have little if any explanatory text on the back, the text being in the albums. It seems that the loss of value for being stuck in an album is made up for by the increase in value by knowing what the picture is supposed to depict. However if one searches a little, it is also possible to find these sets of pictures still in their original wrappers, as well as unused albums. The pictures are often high quality, particularly those showing reproductions of famous art works. These albums can be found all over the place on flea markets and second-hand book shops, most costing around DM30 if one bargains properly. I read an American article which indicated that they are available in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a well- known tourist trap, for around DM100 each. I suppose that just goes to show tourists can get ripped off anywhere. Mint cards issued in the packets like English ones are scarcer. Unless one is very lucky one has to go to one of the few dealers around and that can make them more expensive. But whatever the price, when one considers the number of cards in the series, they are a real bargain.

Submitted by S.Arnold.