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This article is real anorak stuff. Now I gather this is a British phrase. I suspect the more globally accepted 'geek' will take-over. Kind of unfortunate as many a laugh has been had when someone has been pounding on on a subject of little relevance to mime struggling into a coat and saying, 'Oh, I feel the warmth of an anorak around me.' Try it as a fun 'in' joke and if you are the sort of person that laughs at your own jokes your going to get a kick out of those blank faces. Remember though the advice when playing poker, if you are looking for the easy mark, its you.

So what am I warning you about?

Well this article is all about how the printing of cigarette cards was actually done. It fills a gap in the information on this site and so, for completeness sake it gets a mention. Fret not I am not going to go into the detail of printing, this is overview stuff.

In the broadest sweep of the brush cards can be divided into two printing methods, colour and black and white. Both these can be sub-divided into printed and photographic.

By the outbreak of war 1000 tons of cardboard were being consumed a month.

Leaving aside the photographic process lets concentrate on the printing process. The printing will have been done in, basically, one of four ways. The three main ones were letterpress, lithography or photogravure. The fourth on my list is collotype which was used in a limited number of sets produced.


This was the method by which most cards were produced. In fact it was almost universally adopted by producers of cards between the wars.


Firstly the design is photographed and by chemical process it is etched onto a metal plate. The results in the design being raised from the surface of the metal and when inked the card is produced. A bit like cutting lumps out of a potato. When only one colour is used in the printing process all is easy. The trick comes when more than one colour is used. For every colour used a different plate had to be struck.

There are many examples of cards having sneaked into the market place with one or more of these colours having been forgotten.

This process is simple, mechanistic and requiring large amounts of skill to be able to do properly.


This is a more 'controllable' form of letterpress, more complicated of course. A glass screen, scored by many crisscross lines, is placed between the picture and the camera. Now do not imagine this is like the wire-enforced safety glass schools always seem to have.

Churchmans, Kings of Speed

The result is a picture which is defined as a series of dots. It is these dots which are engraved into the plate. The number of dots per inch defines the fineness of the printing. At the finer end of the market cigarette cards were using 150 dots to the inch.

A good example of the half-tone technique is Churchmans. East Suffolk Churches and Kings of Speed use this process.

In one of those happy coincidences which can make you believe there is a god (if only for a moment) any colour you need can be reproduced by the use of yellow, red and blue. This means full colour printing can be done in three plates.

A photograph is taken three times of the same picture filtering different colours. The glass screen has to be moved fractionally between the exposures to ensure the dots created do not align perfectly in the finished article. Although only the three blocks need to be used often a fourth block would be applied which was used to put black onto the card, either as a border or as a method of emphasis.

Godfrey Phillips, British Butterflies [1927] is a good example of the four colour process.

The two techniques are not mutually exclusive. A hybrid of the two is possible and Players, Tennis is a prime example of this hybrid technique. The figures are printed in half-tone but the basic colouring of the green background is dine by line-work as are the sketched figures.

You see some cards which defy categorisation at first. Ardath, Famous Film Stars is a prime example. They look like artwork but have a photographic quality, rather like highly skilled colourised artwork. This is achieved by applying a layer of 'varnish' over the finished product which gives the art work a photographic quality. A kind of photo-realism.

Line work and Half tone can be combined as is the case with the Players, Tennis [1936] set.

Players, Tennis

At its most simplistic level you probably could not get a more simple method of mechanised printing. The translation from the Greek means 'written on stone.' It was discovered that damping down a smooth limestone surface which had been previously written on in wax and applying a layer of ink enabled a print to be taken of it. This was because the damp limestone repelled the ink but the wax held it.

Apart from the rather obvious drawbacks of this process the final print was a reverse image of whatever was on the stone. So to make anything sensible the design had to be put onto the stone in reverse.

Wills, The Worlds Dreadnoughts

It also meant a stone had to be prepared for every colour that was to be used in the final copy. This could easily entail a twelve stone printing process being needed, each carefully created to ensure the success. Some cigarette cards were produced by this method (or at least a much refined method) Wills, The Worlds Dreadnoughts [1910] and Players, Wonders of the Deep [1904] These sets are interesting because they sit astride a watershed in lithography. Stone was replaced by metal sheets and in 1908 the offset press was introduced where printing could take place on continuously rolling cylinder and photo-lithography meant the image could be placed directly onto the printing surface.

Gallaher used offset printing in the production of many of their cards using up to eight colours. It is also the method by which many of the modern trade cards were/are produced but often only using four colours.

Copes, Castles

Also called recess printing, which gives the game away really. The initial process is similar to letterpress but the plate is etched so the design sinks into the block, rather than standing proud. Ink is applied to the block and then wiped off leaving ink set within the etched part. Once a slightly dampened surface is presented to the block it absorbs the ink within it.

The deeper the original colour the deeper the recess in the plate which enables it to hold more ink making the finished product a darker colour.

The printing process meant the individual dots of colour ran into each other slightly producing a softer finish.

Not all that popular in the printing of cigarette cards, Copes Castles [1939] is an example. This also has a final varnish finish put on it.


Ogdens was to use this process heavily in the production of their guinea gold series in the early ear of cigarette cards. It was then a process that fell from grace to be picked up again in the 1930's. Ardath and Pattreiouex being the dominant force in this area by then.

Guinea Golds, a law unto themselves

The process is relatively simple. The subject is photographed and the negatives produced would be mounted on a glass plate. Card would be run underneath the plates as it was exposed to the light. The card was then developed and if necessary chemically toned. Some of these sets were coloured by hand. This was done through stencils literally by hand and as such many areas of colour overlap etc can be seen.

So there you have it and I hope it was not too painful for you and perhaps added a little more depth to the collecting of cigarette cards. It's what it's all about.

There was a period in Hollywood when no film was complete without someone rushing into the print room and shrieking those words, or 'Hold the Front page'. I don't know why but I suppose it represented the cutting edge of a world forever evolving.

I have made much of my beloved cigarette cards but rarely took a sneak behind the scenes. In Unissued I gave you an idea of the sort of numbers involved in print runs of cigarette cards. If you have not read that, think of a number, double it, and check it out at your convenience. We bought the local printers in this town many years ago now and I always feel an affinity with printing (for no good reason apart from there is a sub-cellar full of the stuff we could not part with<g>). The stuff we bought probably harked back to the Victorian era. Anyway before I drift away to a distant shore of memory to the plot.

Well that is how they were produced and next is the company that produced a great many of them.

Here is the story of one of the printers which got the lucrative cigarette card contracts. Tillotsons.

In the first half of the 19th Century were somehow different to the world that exists today. Time and time again the same names crop up and this is no different.

John Tillotson entered into a business partnership in 1850 with Robert Marsden Holden who had set up business in 1827 and had taken on young John in 1834.

When, in the fullness of time, Robert Holden retired, John took over the business. The business was now in Mawdsley Street (now Albany Chambers) having moved out from its original premises at Mealhouse Lane, which had been a purpose built premise.

Always thinking of new ideas for his print firm he introduced an evening newspaper in the Bolton area which first rolled off the presses in 1867. This had the distinction of being the first ha'penny evening paper without a sister morning or weekly to back it up. The driving power of the business was actually John's son, William who had been taken on in partnership in 1866.

Unfortunately William was to die in 1889 after a brief illness. He had shortly returned from America on a fact finding tour. He had gone with William Lever, who was more interested in developing his Sunlight Soap business.

Lets move on, family history has a place, your own family usually.

We re-join the firm in 1898 when they received the first order for 'Stiffeners' as they were called, and still are in some circles. This brings us to the exciting thought that this might be the firm that printed the first cigarette card set in the United Kingdom.

They were also to print Guinea Golds for Ogdens (See Duke) and that represents quite a bit of printing.

They were to print many other series which probably included, Thomson & Porteous, Arms of British Towns Porteous is a great name. & also Fry, With Captain Scott at the South Pole. There is no definitive answer as to whether or not they actually did print these sets as their records were of the type, 'The Scott expedition', 'Arms of the Cities' as a form of shorthand. It seems likely that the sets were as stated.

Now if you did get to the unissued article you will have an idea of the print runs so it will come as no surprise to you to discover a print run for 10,000,000 satin on colour. This was most likely required by Godfrey Phillips the great issuer of silks.

Tillotsons were also in the packaging business (started 1897) which saw them with three machines for the creation of cigarette boxes. Machines which had been developed in New York.

The business was based in Bolton but their biggest contract was for a Liverpool firm. As with any successful business the original premises became to small and so they moved to the corner of Commercial Road & Sandhills Lane in Liverpool. An undertaking which was completed in 1904.

1934 saw another increase in scale. By now cigarette trade was falling but the manufacture of soap boxes (no doubt a contract based on an old boys handshake, remember the Lever connection) was on the up. By the outbreak of war 1000 tons of cardboard were being consumed a month.

There we bow out of the business of Tillotsons, they were to survive the war but cigarette cards hardly did.