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May Sketches

S itting on a shelf behind me

is a very long run of Punch magazine (at least they were I've just looked around and they are not there, I wonder where they got moved too). Anyway that does not affect my argument a lot.

Half the cartoons are all but unreadable because there seemed to be something of a habit of those country bumpkins the flappers were always bumping into to always write their wit in dialect. An example, 'Will yer lend me a nairpin lidy to clean my pipe wiv? Give it yer back agin, Lidy, strite.'

By the time you have worked out what this gentleman of the road has said if it was actually funny in the first place it has become less so in translation.

the most annoying few pen strokes

Hence those tomes of the establishment have gathered dust behind me for years (although now I see fewer years than I imagined five minutes ago).

Those clever souls expecting me to conjure up a set of Wills Punch Cartoons Second Series [1917] bad luck I'm not.

Those really clued in types will have known I actually quoted from a Phil May wisecrack above which appears on the Phil May Sketches cards. Don't feel bad if you didn't know, I would not have done either.

These cards were issued by Churchmans [1912] but those are not for me in the elitist mood which has come over me (why else mention my good taste in having a leather bound run of 50 odd years of Punch that seem to have vanished). No, I am speaking of the FJ Smith version of the set. And no I do not mean the version issued in [1924]. I mean, FJ Smith, Phil May Sketches Grey back, [1908].

FJ SMITH
PHIL MAY SKETCHES
GREY BACK [1908]

There is no difference between any of these cards, apart from the grey back version is the least seen of any of them and so the most expensive (the JS Fry version were issued in 1905 and are trade rather than cigarette cards).

For whatever reason Churchman and Smith used a different numbering system but that is all there is between them.

Phil May was born 22 April 1864 in Wortley Yorkshire (which only goes to prove he has little in common with Vladimir Ilyich Lenin who was born on the same day six years later).

Phil May actually managed to die in 1903 so predeceased his appearance on cigarette cards. He died on the 5th August, the same day as Marilyn Monroe but I do not think there was a connection, even in the most fevered of conspiracy theories.

In-between those two events Phil May became one of the most celebrated of cartoonists and still gets plenty of mentions today in that world. 'Oh, so-and-so continues that great tradition of cartoonists. You could draw a line from Hogarth through May and into so-and-so' is an ideal opening gambit if for some reason you find your mouth devoid of either cheese or wine when gazing at some scribble in a frame that might or might not look like a politicians backside.

Each card boasts the name F & J Smith's cigarettes on the top a cartoon in the middle and some verbiage at the bottom.

Noa, but ther be a poomp!
FJ SMITH
PHIL MAY SKETCHES
GREY BACK [1908]

The main characters of the cartoon are nicely drawn and coloured and where there is a back ground it is shown with a few simple pen strokes.

Those surely are the most annoying few pen strokes an artist can make. It only seems to take five strokes of the pen to determine the difference between the great and the good.

I confess to never have been a great fan of jokes such as, : Thirsty Pedestrian: 'Is there a 'pub' in this village?' Ancient Villager: 'Noa, but there be a poomp!"

The ancient villager comes complete with smock, cap and cane as well as country accent.

So lets forget all this Victorian cartoonist humour suitable for sticking on a card and turn the cards over.

Given the fact all that need be known about the cartoon is on the front (including signature) the reverse is a mine of advertiser copy. The blue-grey back version is the most diverse with 13 different brand advertisements.

F&J Smith leave you in no doubts they are a Glasgow firm, F&J Smith, Glasgow screams the bottom of the card just above the note explaining they are a branch of the Imperial Tobacco Company.

Above all this comes the note about the fact cigarettes could be purchased in boxes of 10's, 20's, 50's and 100's.

Times were different then a packet of Glasgow mixture 20 cost 6d as opposed to the current health tax which sees a packet of 20 cigarettes costing 5 UK (8 US). We are informed other brands can be purchased by weight.

"Studio" Cigarettes seem to have been the cheap and cheerful brand as this could be purchased for 4d per 20 cigarettes. The blurb explaining 'The popularity of this well known brand is, in itself, a sufficient testimony to the excellence of the Cigarettes and their splendid value.'

At the top of the card it tells you there are 50 in the series and the number of that particular card, although this is of little import compared to the banner advertisement for the brand.

In case you did not get the hint earlier, Glasgow Mixture cigarettes are one of those brands. There are 12 other back advertisements to be found on these cards and it might not be the time for an analysis of what cards can be found with what back advertisements, as it would only lead to remarkable price increases and I do not know anyone that takes a lot of notice of this anyway.

The advertising blurb on the reverse of the Glasgow mixture cigarettes has that odd ring of advertising from the period, 'Cigarette Smokers who desire to have something quite unique and altogether different from the ordinary Cigarette, will find this brand rich in natural flavour and with a charm entirely of its own.'

We can all think of things rich in natural flavours which would not taste like a lot of cigarettes and might even be described as having a charm of its own but if I then suggested we all started smoking cow droppings it might not have such a take-up.

'Wild Geranium' on the other hand are promoted as 'very popular with smokers who prefer a daintily scented Cigarette.'

In every instance cigarette is given a capital letter.

You could also expect to be able to smoke 'Orchestra' Mild ('...which will commend them to the most fastidious connoisseur') among other such charmers.

"Kashan" Turkish was another brand available. Not sure why but Turkish cigarettes always conjure up a particular type of experience in my mind, which is something akin to drinking white spirit and smoking old rope dipped in tar. It is a personal thing as the blurb says, 'containing a delicacy of aroma and richness of taste which only choicest Eastern Tobaccos can give.'.

The humour on the cards might not have survived, some of the advertising blurb would not exactly be welcome in the modern world and I suspect some of the flavour in the cigarettes would be more than a little alarming but still there are not many collectors who would willingly let one of these sets escape a collection of cards.

That probably says more about the collectors spirit than the cards.

That's collecting for you.