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Do you know who George Waterstone is?

How about, Thomas Huntley Wood.

Perhaps you have seen a strange Japanese man with a fan.

Three is a mighty interesting number with many a symbolic significance and mystical meaning. It also has a suitable 'snigger' factor in the right company. Anyway clear your mind of all smut, mischief and my abysmal alliteration to focus once more on cigarette cards. At least a subject close to cigarette cards, the packets they came in. Often they still come in these packets as many a collection of cards is housed in the cigarette packets they once came in. I have a good few myself. Although the packets are collectable they do not have the same appeal as the cards themselves for fairly obvious reasons. However I cannot bring myself to put sticky labels on these packets or write on them as so many people still do. That seems a little 'off' to my way of thinking but I have always been considered slightly odd. But that is normal.

In 1888 he was popped inside his familiar lifebelt and letters

First though a joke that is about as unfunny as they get but only because, set in the Second World War, it is something of a relic.

There was an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman slogging through the desert, having been separated from the rest of their troop. Totally disorientated by day three, their nerves were ragged. With each step they took a little voice said, 'One, Two, One, Two.' Eventually the Englishman snaps, 'For goodness sake Jock, put a sock in it.' Jock looks bemused, the counting continues, 'One, two, One, two'. Not being able to take it anymore the Brit swings around and shoots him dead. Marching on the counting continues, 'One, Two, One, Two.' The Englishman is enraged, not only has he shot the wrong man, Shaun continues to count, 'One, two, One, two'. Without warning the Brit swings round and shoots him dead. Walking alone now the Brit still hears the little voice, counting out the steps, 'One, Two, One, Two'. Full of remorse he decides to have a final cigarette before shooting himself. Reaching into his pocket he pulls out a packet of Players, Navy Cut. Sliding open the packet, there it was written large, Players, 'It's the Tobacco that Counts.'

Players Hero logo adorning the front of the packet

You can tell how old the joke is, when did you last suffer a joke containing an Englishman an Irishman and a Scotsman.

American consumers of cigarettes still have the opportunity to purchase cigarettes in 'soft' packets something the British market failed to be attracted too. Once the selling of cigarettes by weight had fallen by the wayside the hull and slide became the method by which cigarettes were packaged.

The Hull and Slide, a variation on the package style of the matchbox (not the matchbook) took more engineering. It was this added complexity which enabled the company of Mardon & Sons to dominate the manufacture of these things. It was this domination which allowed them to gain a large market of the cigarette card production. Their warehouses were the last known resting place of millions of cigarette cards which were eventually pulped (go see)

Turning back the clock to the very beginning, Wills introduced the brand, The Three Castles in 1877 as a pipe tobacco. By 1884 the brand had made the transition to cigarettes which were now being rolled by machinery. Interestingly there was a certain amount of resistance from the general public who rather liked the uneven results of the hand-rolled cigarettes. Gold Flake and Louisville were also brands introduced at this time. Machine manufacture had been made possible because of the invention by James Bonsack which was able to roll and cut cigarettes by an alarming and elaborate series of blades. This machine was purchased by Wills in 1883 (in 1885 James Duke was to purchase it.)

By 1890 the cigarettes were being sold in the hull and slide format. A few years later Wills, Three Castles brands were to have the first set of cigarette cards Wills produced.

Now in a world where image is more than content and company logo's are re-designed at huge expensive (to the customer, just think of BT, ICI and the BBC in the UK.) it is nice to note that Wills hardly altered the design of the packaging from 1900 till 1956.

1956 was a watershed as the 'flip-top' lid came to the market doing away with the hull and slide. Now the flip-top lid packaging caused a sensation, have you seen those cringe making adverts for cigarettes in the 50's when it was quite a selling point. No doubt the ad-exec's know why.

George Waterstone

You might know the chap, and if you do stop reading this site and get out more.

This was the trader who wrote to Wills and suggested The Three Castles be used as a brand name for cigarettes.


Well this bit is easier on the brain. It was the name conjured up by Thackeray in The Virginians and he was quoted extensively on the Wills advertising (check out, Making the grade)

There is a surprising number of brands that contain the number three in the name. I am not going to list them all. I never do that because there are too many people out there who know their onions and cannot wait for me to make another error. Below are just a few of them.

Wills also had the brand name, The Three Roses. Possibly some sort of marketing ploy to associate the sweet smelling rose with the acrid smell of smouldering cigarette. (No I do not know if Wills, Roses was distributed in these packets, if you do let me know).

I suppose at a stretch of the imagination you could take the same line of reasoning for Gallaher, Three Birds (well almost.)

However this is probably about as far as you could go on stretching that particular point and in a world of product placement quite what Three Dogs (Sandorides) is telling us I cannot say. Then again Three Bells seems to have nothing to do with anything apart from it was issued by J&F Bell Ltd.

Heading for the biblical vote there was the Three Kings from the US, Union Company. Just think of the fun the ad men could have with that one.

On a similar vein the Far East were pretty keen on the number three with The Three Pagodas.

Quite where they were going with the Three Generals I am not sure, perhaps it was an attempt at gathering in the female market as the men were well catered for with the Three Sisters brand.

To really have a party though get back to England where Three Nuns were being openly sold in every corner shop.

There are a good few more 'three' brands but before I get over ambitious lets move on.

In creating The Three Castles Wills produced a brand which was instantly recognisable.

Three castles with its nautical imagery (a sailing vessel in Bristol docks) is something of a standard in the early cigarette packet design.

Sailors were great fans of smoking. This was helped by the fact they were allowed to purchase whole tobacco leaves for the purpose of smoking. These would be twisted tightly into a rope from which shavings could be taken and the smoked in pipe form, 'Navy Cut.' if you will.

This being the case Navy Cut was a pretty popular name to put on the front of a cigarette packet. Players, Navy Cut has to be the dominant force in the UK market.

The striking trademark of the sailors head and shoulders encased within a lifeboat is, as a logo, one of the great success stories of advertising. Known as 'Hero' as that is the name on his hatband (yes, they have a proper name, I did not say I knew everything).

Now I suspect it is only me showing my age but the bearded Hero does not look much like an old salt. In fact something of a callow youth. Putting my petty ageist comments aside for a moment, it is worth noting his early development.

The sailors head was registered in 1883 for Players, Navy Cut pipe tobacco.

In 1888 he was popped inside his familiar lifebelt and lettered.

Despite my misgivings about the fellows-features rumour is it belonged to somebody. That somebody was Thomas Huntley Wood who served on the HMS Edinburgh in the 1880's. For the us of his face he was given some tobacco and a few guineas.

Now like most things that are worth anything there is more going on than first meets the eye. There are two ships in the background within the lifebelt. To 'Heros' left is a sailing vessel, a triple-decker reputed to have been HMS Britannia one of the biggest of the naval vessels at the time. However Hero chooses to turn his back on this vessel and is looking to his right. In doing so he is looking straight at the first HMS Dreadnought which was built in 1875 complete with steaming funnels.

The detail of the Hero design once again I skip over for the sake of brevity but suffice to say when it was launched in 1900 there was considerable consternation about the growing strength of the German Navy, so it was good to see Hero was looking after us.

By 1907 Players Navy Cut would have been Britains best selling brand if it had not been for one brand which stood head and shoulder above the rest.

Wills, 'Wild' Woodbine

Wills created the 'Wild' Woodbine brand in 1888 along with a brand called Cinderella. Originally it was tucked away as a minor export brand.

It was to be the first mass-produced brand created on the Bonsack machine.

This machine was the only possible way forward. A major weapon for churning out the cigarettes during the tobacco war the number speak for themselves. In 1891 a little over 53 million Woodbines were created. Two years later this number had trebled.

A packet of 5 Woods were held to One Penny until 1915 when a farthing was added to the price. This was only to last till Feb 1920 when the price soared two Two Penny. This price was maintained till 1939.

Wills, Wild Woodbine were originally sold in packets of five. Packets of 10 were introduced in 1916 and packets of 20 were introduced in 1930. The packet of five was still available up until 1973.

Why was it called 'Woodbine'. Well I do not know the definitive answer and by the amount of twaddle I have read on the subject nor does anyone else. Presumably for it to be associated with the plant of the same name.

I consider the packet to be a design classic, wonderfully abstract. There is a rumour that the packet tells a story of a Japanese gentleman and a fan. Quite what was being smoked when that story was 'discovered' I can but imagine but unfortunately there seems nobody alive today who can complete the story. The mind boggles in reality.

There are some echoes of the severity of the Woodbine design in the works of the botanist/designer Christopher Dresser who had a book, 'The Principles of Decorative Design' published in 1873 which would appear to have influenced a good number of package designs of this period.

In May 1939 Wills introduced a short-lived brand variation called Red Label. Obviously Wills were feeling a bit guilty about the extortionate price rises which had seen cigarette prices rise One Penny over 24 years. To this end the Red label was designed to be used in vending machines to be sold at the old price. A cynic would say this was to avoid the hassle of altering the machines but whose that cynical nowadays. To keep the price down a certain amount of cheaper commonwealth leaf was added into the mixture.

For whatever reasons the public were content to stump up the extra money and Red Label was dropped in November 1942. This move went hand in hand with another price rise.

By the 1950's the designs were beginning to look a little to ornate for a war weary world. First to go were the inverted comma's about Wild and then the whole word was dropped. By 1966 the packet was a said reflection of its former glory.