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How Munch?

Price is a function of demand and supply. A well organized market will determine price fairly accurately, a badly organized market has no long-term future, sweeping generalization which would be more difficult than smoke to pin down.

Every year cigarette card values are revised to reflect the changes in the market which has occurred in the previous 12 months, unlike other markets though the new prices come out three months before the new prices take effect which creates something of a grey market during that period.

There is also an element of pre-judging the market when trends can be anticipated. For example the prices of football related cards rose for 1998 which accurately predicted an increase in demand for these cards because of the World Cup effect. The prices do not go down again but might remain stable for a period and allow inflation to eat away at the cost of the cards.

Finding a bit of card that is 100 years old is probably not that difficult

Frequently people ask me why a set of cards is more expensive than another. Classic examples are what are called ' alike series'. These are basically the same set but are issued by different manufacturers. Often in the world of cigarette manufacture these companies are owned by the same person.

Given demand can be considered similar for those sets it is simply that one set was produced in greater numbers. The price difference remains because the manufacturers name provides enough differentiation. Just an example of badging. There are many examples of this type of thing, a simple example being Butterflies and Moths which was issued by Players, Wm Clarke and Hignett.

My education is in economics but don't let that stop you disagreeing with every single word above, the old joke is, lay every economist in the country end to end and they still would not reach a conclusion. It is a valid criticism.

When I started collecting the world was a slightly different place. You could buy, literally tens of thousands of cards without difficulty. For the first few years of my hobby I did not have access to a standard catalogue. Hour after hour was spent sorting cards with no real idea of price.

They had not cost a great deal in the first place. Eventually I purchased a catalogue which, putting it in perspective cost more than most of the sets of cards I had were actually worth, how things change. After a day or two of looking at my collection in a more monetary light I soon determined a price policy.

If I had the set it was not worth much, if I had a part set it was worth more and if I had a single card which had been torn from a scrapbook and then folded at least once it was worth a small fortune. Strangely it is a pricing guide which seems to apply globally and although I present it with tongue slightly in cheek it will work pretty well for any collection you might have just found in the attic.

Afterall the reason why people find a fortune in their attic is because not everyone does. If we all ran upstairs now and found a Constable painting how much would they be worth by the time they got to market?

Some, but by no means all, of the sets which can be considered classic are surprisingly inexpensive in the scheme of things. This can partially be explained by the method of distribution. Cards never had a market value as such, they were given away in packets of cigarettes as a method of increasing sales of that particular brand.

This means there was no real incentive to make them scarce, quite the reverse. So just because a set of cards only costs £12/$20 does not necessarily mean it is a bad set of cards. I can think of many a better-than-average set at lower-than-average price. A good few of them are mentioned on this website and there are many more to add.

Just be glad it is still possible to do, and buy the cards while they remain so well priced. A lawyer once said, 'Buy land, they are not making it anymore.' Sound principle.

Inevitably, some of the great cards do have quite astronomical prices attached to them. A lot of the early cards for example. They have all the ingredients for being highly priced. Cigarette cards came about as a method of stiffening the cigarette packaging.

To fulfill this function they had to be made out of heavier grade card than later issues, some of which have the strengthening abilities of a wet-paper bag. The market for cigarettes was not as developed as today, a far greater proportion of the smoking population smoking pipes etc. so fewer were printed. Now 100 years later to find a set of these cards in VG condition is an achievement.

The subject matter of the cards has a great deal to do with the appeal and therefore value of a set. Finding a bit of card that is 100 years old is probably not that difficult persuading someone to part with £100/$170 or more for it, would be the hard part.

Put a picture of a cricket player on it and things are slightly different. Some themes have stood the test of time better than others and prices reflect this. Wills, Household Hints is a case in point. At the time the cards were useful. Wills actually produced 4 different series of them but now pictures of home-made wooden broom holders cannot be considered entirely mainstream. Other themes have developed since cigarette cards were produced.

Boxing, speedway and greyhound racing spring to mind as themes that just do not have enough cards dedicated to them for a modern audience. Demand for the cards depicting these themes has meant steady price increase.

Some cards develop an aura about them, Taddys, Clowns and Circus Artistes are a case in point. Basically supply of these cards is so minute as to be almost non-existent. At £650/$1100 a card they can be considered expensive, although not the most expensive.

I have been offered two of these sets in the last 12 months but I bought neither of them. I might have been foolish to turn down the opportunity [and history might prove me an idiot yet but I am still talking to my bank manager :-)] but more people have offered me this rare set than have asked to buy it. The set itself is far from my favorite set on this planet and from my perspective it is overpriced [supply exceeding demand at current prices].

I will not be losing many friends with that statement as there is probably less than 50 sets worldwide. A while ago I was at an auction where a single card from this set was being offered. It had literally been ripped from a scrapbook, and none to carefully, it sold for the thick-end of £200/$340. Some might say this blows my rule-of-thumb pricing out of the water, I am not entirely convinced.

Then there is Churchmans, Silhouettes of Warships [1915]. At £7/$12 per card it is not in the super-price range but most people would think twice about spending £350/$600 on a set of cards without having a fairly good reason for doing so. Just because you can need not be good enough.

They are reasonably early cards although not of the heaviest grade of card which might well have something to do with the war effort. I had a part set which had clearly been removed from an album they had been stuck into at some time in their past. Given this I knew they were expensive. I have still got that part set in something of a time capsule which represents the early beginning of my collection.

Churchmans, Silhouettes of Warships (please contain your excitement)

When you see the front of the card it makes you wonder why on earth anyone would want to stick them into a scrap book in the first place. Admittedly the reverse of the cards might not be all that exciting but in that case why not just forget them.

The actual text is supplied by Fred T. Jane and as such can be considered the most knowledgeable of sources for things military. My book of dates gives the issue as February, 1915 which means we were at War and you can see a benefit in having a set of cards which shows silhouettes of enemy ships especially given the amount of smoking sailors did. Not unreasonably Churchmans must have concluded that our sailors should also be able to recognize ships which were on the side of the righteous.

I suppose it was okay to publish details of the allied navy on the back of cards but you do wonder. Although there are series of cards from this period that have been passed by the censors this is not one of them, or at least if it is the cards do not state it.

Some, but by no means all, give an idea of how much the ships cost to produce. The new big idea was the dreadnought. Card 3 shows a British Dreadnought which had an average cost of £1.7 million ($2.89m) the German Dreadnought is on card 37 [kaiser class] with an estimated cost of £2.4m ($4.1m) with the French Dreadnought on card 14 being the most expensive at £2.9m ($4.9m).

Everyone is different and have different ideas of what something is worth but you would have to be pretty keen to buy this set. Certainly, Wills, The Worlds Dreadnoughts [1910], Wills, Merchant Ships of the World [1924], Players, Life on board a Man of War-1805 & 1905 [1905], Players, Modern Naval Craft [1939] could all be bought and you would still have £100/$170 left over burning a whole in your pocket, rather than buying the Churchmans set.

So, it does not matter how many years you collect cards you will always wonder why some cards are one price and another set a different price.