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In 1928 Players issued a set of cards by the name 'Flags of the League of Nations'. A mighty functional title and a mighty functional set. Each nations flag is shown fluttering from a flag pole. If only the League was as functional as the set things might have gone a bit better than it did.

Set up in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles it was pretty much a re-modelling of Europe along the lines of 'too the victors the spoils.' Although Woodrow Wilson gave the basic architecture of the League the US did not join due to isolationist sentiments, which, lets face it, was not the best start a new world order could have.

The jaws of World Leaders have been working overtime ever since.

Things were going to go a bit pear-shaped for the League pretty swiftly after the appearance of the set. In 1931 Japan (card 28) decided Manchuria would benefit from an invasion. This caused a bit of tension as China (card 11) had always thought this area was fair game for invasion itself.

The League nearly talked Japanese ears off but it did not seem to stop the aggression. A bit later on Italy (card 27) thought a bit of Africa was just what it needed so took Abyssinia (card 1). Despite some really harsh words from the League not a lot happened. There might even have been some fist shaking but Mussolini was not being frightened. He even had enough spare time to make the trains run on time.

Before we knew it Italy was signing agreements with Germany (card 20) and all hell broke loose. Of course it took a bit of time. In 1938 the annexation of the Sudetenland was not treated at all lightly, afterall it had belonged to Chechoslovakia (card 14) up until that point. In 1939 The Pact of Steel meant Italy could march into Albania (card 2).

Its a flag on a pole. You get the idea.

By now the League of Nations had worn its teeth away from too much jaw-jaw and war was basically inevitable.

Italy tried invading Greece (card 21) but was repulsed and before they knew it Italy was losing the war and swapping sides.

If the set had been produced before 1926 the German flag would not have been in it and indeed of they had produced the set after 1933 the German flag would not have been in it. In 1938 Germany invaded Austria (card 5) and by 1939 a pact with Russia meant the German's could march into Poland (card 40) and that really was the last of the last straws.

I am not going to continue with this potted history as it is all to simplistic for such a mind-numbing topic. Suffice to say though the League of Nations was pretty much at war with itself during World War Two and remained that way as it was not actually dissolved until 1946.

Details from Card 8
Bulgaria
(Kingdom)
Capital: Sofia
Area: 39,824 sq. miles
Pop: 5483125 (1927)
Bulgaria fell under Turkish rule after the battle of Kossovo in 1389, and did not gain its independence until 1878. The Bulgar peasants are the hardiest of any in Europe, with the possible exception of the Russian. They live on black bread, garlic cheese and sour milk, and many live to extraordinary ages. Bulgaria, which is almost entirely an agricultural country is famous for its roses from which is made Attar of Roses. The Parliament or National Assembly is known as the Sobranye.. Bulgaria joined the League of Nations in 1920.

The League of Nations was to fall away and be replaced by the United Nations which only goes to show the more things change the more they remain the same (card 1: Abyssinia; '...which is still sometimes known by its old name of Ethiopia...'); before the League there had been the Holy Alliance (1814) described as that 'loud sounding nothing'.

The jaws of World Leaders have been working overtime ever since. Many of the League of Nations members went on to become United Nations members, Yugoslavia for one. This country appears on the League of Nations set at card 44, Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The card informs us they were an original member of the League of Nations and they were also an original member of the United Nations.

In 1933 people felt able to write, 'The old doctrine that preparations for war will ensure peace has finally and irrevocably exploded.' Well of course that sort of thinking is just fine for the textbooks where finally constructed theories can be created but reality is very different.

Anyway I am straying well beyond my comfort zone (flying into a no thought zone perhaps) so let me get away from global affairs and back to small bits of card issued 70 years ago.

Many people are interested in flags. I confess to not totally following their desire to collect cards with flags on them but everyone is driven by their own particular demons. Flags are a symbol of a country and flag burning seems to be something of a national pastime for many.

Nowadays the Union Jack seems to have to wrapped about every sportsman we produce if a newspaper is going to take a picture of them. Its originality like that which makes sure the sports pages are used to light the coal fire on cold mornings.

Now whilst the front of the card has all the appeal of a nations flag stuck on a bit of card the flip-side is a mine of information. Cards you have to remember are a charm of two halves.

The information on the reverse would have armed people with enough statistics to keep them going a life time. Population stats for each country, the capital and the area it covers in square miles (card 26: Irish Free State is actually described in acres mind, all, 17,019,155 of them). Not content with this sort of detail there is also a potted history of the country.

Whoever wrote bits of information on these cards, hats off to them. Nowadays we are bombarded with informational sources but in the 1920's things were very different. To be able to produce a coherent informative history of a nation on a small piece of card just to stick them in a packet of cigarettes is impressive.

I have given the details of the 8th card of the set but this is representative of any other card within the set (okay not card 45 as you see). Mind you it is interesting to note the idea that these people lived to grand old ages. There has always been an idea that people living somehow closer to nature live a long time. Every year a village will be discovered where everyone is over 100 years old.

This invariably turns out to be nonsense, they all just look over 100 years old. (Bulgaria 1995: Life expectancy: 67 males, 75 females)

Card 11 China tells us it has an estimated population of 445,085,953 in an area of 4,279,170 square miles. Canada (card 9) comes close in size with 3,547,030 square miles but only has 8,788,483 (1921) people rattling about in it. Compare this with Japan at the time with 83,454,489 (June 1926) people squeezed into 260,783 square miles. These figures are for the Japanese Empire note, so are not seemingly directly comparable to the Japanese population statistics.

It is nice to see these sets as it gives an idea of the ever evolving political geography which is so easy to forget in favour of the present geopolitical climate. Card 13: Cuba, one of the original members of the League. Discovered by Colombus run by Spain until 1898 when it came under US protection until 1902 when it declared itself a republic. Its real role in history yet to be played out on the World stage.

Many of the countries in the set seem to have altered in size as well over the years. For someone, like myself, locked into an island mentality this is quite a surprise. However land locked in a Europe with a World War between then and now along with numerous other conflicts does mean there has been plenty of potential for changing the number of square miles within a countries border.

I suppose Germany (card 20) is the greatest example of this as successive wars expanded and contracted its boundaries during the 20th century and until very recently the country had basically been cut in half.

Details from Card 45
Siam
Kingdom
Capital Bangkok
Area 200,148 sq miles
Pop (est) 9,831,000 (1925-6)
Siam is an independent Kingdom situated between British Burma and French Indo-China. The national flag is known as the Trairanga. Rice, tin and teak are the principal exports, and although the industries are very backward the country is rich in gold, rubies, sapphires, etc. During the Great War, Siam, joined the Allies, and sent a motor-ambulance section which did good service in France. There is a large number of Boy Scouts in Siam, the movement having been taken up enthusiastically. Siam was an original member of the League.

Sometimes you can see the complier of these sets really struggling (its good to see I am not the only one caught with thin material at times). Card 45 is given in its entirety for you to enjoy in the box out.

I am obviously not the only one that feels that British Burma and French Indo-China have rather too many names attached to the countries title. Burma and Indo-China sounds much better.

If an Empire politician had suggested Siam was backward in industry but wealthy in mining deposits you would know what they were going to say next. This country needs a helping hand and a British invasion is just the hand they need otherwise the poor blighters could be prey to any sort of aggression.

Perhaps it was the very fact Siam was the only country to maintain its independence in SE Asia it got such a poor write up, no mention of the Royal family there or any number of other facets. Just they sent some ambulances and have got boy scouts.

So there you have it. I don't have anything clever to say to wrap this all up. The League of Nations was something of an ideal and a good example of just how great theory can make lousy reality. This set is not the most visually inspiring but like a lot of things if you just dismiss them because they don't look good then you are going to be missing a lot.