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Saturday, 17th May 2008

This is the second time I have visited this theme for an article. Wills approached the idea three times. This is Household Hints [1927] Title in white a series of 50 cards and in fact the first of the series of three, which saw series 2 come out in 1930 and the final series in 1936, this being the subject of the previous article and also a sticky-back set.

I was going to defend the subject of this set by blatthering on about how there was austerity imposed upon the population by the miseries of global depression and the like. Not in 1927 there was not though so out the window it went.

Mind you the population is not as prosperous as is today by any stretch of the imagination. Expectations were lower so potentially these were happier times but 'happy' is even more tricky to measure than 'poverty' both terms have a relative and absolute value which can be attached. Being relatively happy does not make you absolutely happy.

Anyway my television seems to pour endless money saving tips into my startled eyes. Do-It-Yourself seems to be something of a national obsession. Everytime I have decided to 'save' myself a bit of money I have regretted the expense of it all. It took me three months to paint a house once between other jobs. I grew to loathe every square inch of those walls. One room never did get done, still incomplete now. By the time I had finished I had saved myself about £150/$300 and costs myself three months of hell. If I had given the job to someone that needed/wanted the work it would have been done in two/three weeks, the house having just been rebuilt was devoid of anything but walls.

It is made out of a stout packing crate and a broom handle

Now there are TV programmes which are even more insidious. The DIY ethic has been reduced to call in the 'team'. These experts (perhaps only four) do a job with much fun and laughter in about three days on a materials budget which is sparse to say the least. In those three days they travel around all the antique shops in the area getting incredible bargains from shop-keepers eager to please.

Please TV companies there are 'grown-ups' watching the television too you know. Real life does not happen like that. I've seen the other side of the camera, the bit where they place the bit of stock for the team to buy. The part where they tell the shop-keeper to say what price he wants and then after a bit of haggling to accept this price. Then there is the bit where a few more than four experts appear to do the work. Then there is the bit where it takes a bit longer than the allotted time. Then there is the bit where the work is shoddy rubbish which has to be photographed just right to avoid the fact you have just left footprints in the wet concrete. If it isn't wet then it was down longer than the hour they said it was.

Well done BBC you can treat the population like idiots and make them pay for the privilege.

1927 was a very different world, perhaps a world of rather more gritty realism than is good for anyone.

My brother is a woodworker and some of his earlier efforts still survive the ravages of time. Actually I think they are going to survive a lot of ravishes. If ever there is a nuclear attack I know I am going to be heading straight for that ornamental wishing well in the garden, the house might blow away but the wishing well will remain.

There is a certain element of 'built to last' in some of the wood structures in this set. Card 13 is the making of a coal box, described as 'neat and strong' It is made out of a stout packing crate and a broom handle. The card does not give dimensions and I bet there were plenty of coal boxes out there which were too heavy to lift empty let alone full.

The garden frame on card 19 would be a welcome addition to any nuclear landscape. Like a lot of things it is deceptively simple and there lies the problem. You don't need elaborate planning to make a sloping box with a glass lid. Try it, make one out of card that actually hangs together.

If packing crates were a bit beyond your reach then cards 37 & 38 had the answer, make stuff out of branches. Rustic work. The cards describe the technique of rustic work, making the joints, stripping the bark, painting with gas tar (?) Also notes any post standing more than five feet above the ground should have at least two feet buried in the ground. Larch is apparently the best material for all this.

It does not say what you are meant to be building but the way they are talking it would seem to be a second home being constructed.

The next two cards have had more comedy minutes squeezed out of them than all other DIY sketches put together. Card 41, constructing shelves. For the most part things are funny because they are plausible, shelves which are not level and then fall down despite being made of wood which would do railway sleepers proud is a funny image. Not so funny when they are your own shelves.

I have never made a set of shelves in my life. I have always found I can actually by shelves cheaper than I could ever build the things. Okay these shelves might not be Chippendale quality but my DIY efforts were not going to be either.

Card 41 deals with the erecting of shelves and card 44 deals with the levelling of tables and chairs. Check out the reverse of the card. I mean what could possibly go wrong for heavens sake.

Details from Card
Levelling Tables and Chairs
Place the article to be levelled upon a perfectly level floor, and 'pack' legs with blocks of varying thickness until a spirit level proves that the top is perfectly horizontal. make a scribing-block from a nail and a piece of wood, E, and adjust the point until its height from the ground is equal to that of the thickest packing block, B, ie to that of the shortest leg. With the sharp mail-point carefully scribe lines completely round legs at A, C & D. Saw legs through at these lines, and table will stand firmly.

Did I say two cards. I must have meant three (by now you should know there is always three). Card 45 Renewing a Tap-Washer. We all know how annoying that dripping tap is but we also know if we can just turn that tap a quarter turn more it will stop dripping. Eventually though you find your ability to turn a tap off in the evening is greater than your ability to turn it back on in the morning. Those with families know the wails from other family members because Dad has managed to turn the tap off so tight nobody else can use the thing. This is usually because Dad has been given the job of mending the thing in the first place. Those more ingenious amongst us should leave an adjustable spanner by the tap then it can be open and closed with the sort of power required and everyone can use it once again.

If you are in the 'adjustable-spanner' bracket of DIY this is the card for you. Can't find a washer, fear not, the card suggests a bit of leather or lino will do just as well as a temporary measure. I live in a house full of such 'temporary' measure. Why do a job properly when you can do it five or six times incorrectly?

Earlier in the set card 11 shows you how to adjust a cistern. For years I was plagued by a cistern that overflowed. Once I had decided my garden and that of my neighbours had had quite enough water poured on it then it was time to do something about the situation. Forget all that fine mouthed stuff on the reverse of the card. With the strength of Samson (and the desperate) I bent the rather sturdier than usual arm mechanism on the old toilet. Unfortunately I managed to break the rather flimsy plastic joint which connected the ball-cock to the toilet handle. That was fixed by a bit of lashing wire, neatly cutting out the handle altogether, you just pulled the lashing wire. It is still like that now. This house has a surplus of toilets, three and that one just does not get used anymore and you know how creepy a toilet gets after it has not been used for a while. Or is that just me that thinks like that?

Card 50 shows you how time have changed. It gives us a template of how to construct a window box which will fit on any window ledge. Well it might have done then but modern window are not exactly built for window boxes. You might be able to balance something about as thick as a pencil on the sill but try getting any flowers in it.

A while back it was decided some of the old fireplaces were going to opened up in this house. One of the joys of a world that turns is, stand still long enough and everyone who left you standing eventually catch up with you. Anyway for some reason a previous owner of this house did away with the old fireplaces and decided new fangled electricity was the way ahead. In the lounge the entire thing was torn out which meant it had to be rebuilt. Step in my brother, moved on from woodwork, now pretty adept at brickwork. It took ages and looked pretty skilled but now I have seen it was complete fraud, card 46 tells me how to lay tiles in my hearth, looks painfully easy, goodness knows what the fuss is. Card 17 shows me how to repair a fire grate. This is even easier by the looks of it, bit of cement and a long springy knife seems all that is required.

I shall have to have a word with my brother on that score, show him those cigarette cards. I'm sure it'll impress him no end and next time something goes wrong perhaps he will tell me to have a look at my s*dding cigarette cards rather than bother him.

Remaining on the 'stand still long enough' theme card 23 tells us how to convert an old Gas-bracket. This house still retains a number of the original gas brackets (sometimes I wonder what sort of pile you think I live my life in) It is not half as big as it sounds. It is big enough though that many things just never got done, like changing all the gas lamps.

I expected the conversion of the gas lamp described on the card to be too electricity but, no, it is conversion to another form of gas-lamp. Anyway that is not the point. Point is how the idea of safety has changed over the years. The card happily advises any gas leaks be stopped by either stiff white paint or white-lead. My grand-parents used to have a gas fire which was fed by a gas pipe with a leak in it. To stop the gas filling the room they would happily light the leaking gas pipe so there was a 'pilot' light happily burning halfway along the skirting board, presumably they felt lead paint was a bad idea. They would probably be locked up today and the entire family taken into care, still they had been drinking from lead water pipes for quite a time by the time this bit of DIY was in place.

Now this of course is the strength and weakness of DIY, especially as described on the reverse of a cigarette card I fear. It is all so easy you think. Why am I paying somebody hard earnt cash for a job I could do.

Card 39 proves the point.

At the top of the house (I'm sitting there now) there is a window with a most splendid view of the sea. The windows are original and that means sash windows. Well eventually the mechanism will fail. These have and I can never be bothered to get them fixed. Why? Because I'm a DIY fan of the Heath Robinson school. I use a video cassette which can prop the window open, perfect.

However card 39 explains how to mend a sash window. Its so easy. Remove the beading from the sides of the frame. Hang on a minute let me just remove the sixty years of paint of the beading first. The card continues, 'If outer sash line is broken the central parting bead must also come out.' Hang on, how do I know. Oh well, might as well take it out anyway. Just scrape away that old paint. Best not to look down, if I plop out of the window I have at least sixty feet to consider my life before meeting something solid. What if I break some of this beading, its all old and rotten under this paint. Now the card is asking me to remove the pocket piece to reveal the counter weight. I am beginning to wonder if there is anyone still alive on the planet that knows how this technology works. Perfect, a window that worked just fine with a video cassette now is in bits and a lot of them broken. Time for a new window.

Now I am not going to do this job because I saw it done once on television in real life. Two experts merrily making a right hash of it. That video cassette is good for a few more years before it needs replacing, then I will just get another one.

Fret not though there are other cards which deal with the sort of problems which are still encountered, blocked drains, dents in furniture, re-webbing chairs and the like. So if you are not ready yet for those major jobs about the house you can practice on the smaller things.

So there you go a perfect set for all DIY enthusiasts, it'll remind you to get the experts in as quickly as possible.