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Apparently until recently we knew more about the surface of the moon than we did the deeper regions of the oceans. This fact is always delivered as if we should be amazed but given the fact we can look at the moon and have been since time began I cannot see what the fuss is about. There is also a lot more of the sea than there is surface of the moon so it is all pretty redundant but makes a good line to start yet another 'as we dive into the murky depths' type documentary promising glimses of huge leviathons of the deep man has never seen. After half an hour we have usually seen a semi-transparent jelly-fish which glows in a slightly different manner. Pretty exciting for jelly-fish fans but not Jules Verne fans.

What is quite interesting is the fact the cigarette manufacturers were always evoking the image of the sailor and all things sea related but there were never that many sets of cigarette cards which dealt with the maritime theme in its endless variety. A shame really which has meant we had something of an over-supply of footballers and the like. market-forces are market forces though and the cigarette card manufacturers were not the last people to notice a lot of money can be made by endlessly churning out a sports theme.

In 1904 we knew a lot less about the things that floated/swam in those murky depths but it did not stop Players, Wonders of the Deep [1904] 50 cards having a go at itemising some of them.

Deep is something of an ill-defined term. The same person can be described as deep by one group of people and a shallow-pompous arse by another (wonder what made me think of that <g>). Very few of the cards venture to suggest just how deep these things can actually be found.

'As many as 2 million have been brought ashore in one day.'

Lets face it, this is pretty adventurous stuff for 1904. 90 years of deep sea exploration has left a lot of the stuff on these cards looking rather shallow when it comes to the depth stakes. This is slightly unfair, rather like suggesting the Wright brothers made pretty naff aircraft because they were not using jet-propulsion.

As ever the early part of the 20th century can be considered a period when nobody knew how to cut corners, nice thick card, high quality illustration and ornate back designs.

So without further ado lets dive into the crystal clear waters and have a squint at these cards.

Card 1 starts of in fine style, the Sea-Urchin. When I was a nipper there was nothing more exotic in the entire empire of the sea as a sea-urchin. Like a visitor from another planet I could hardly credit the existence of such a thing, a great and rare find. The base of the card tells me they are common on some part of the British coast. I guess I never went to those bits of the country.

I have to mention card 2 because it makes a rare statement about market value (on any set of cards) which is very interesting. It is about cone shells, 'famous for their extreme beauty' the card estimates between 400 and 500 different types and many being highly collectable. Then it mentions a really fine example would cost up to £50 ($80-$90 approx). In 1904 £50 would not be the sort of money to sneeze at. The card also mentions the inhabitants of the shells are carnivores and live in shallow water. Some are meant to bite and are extremely poisonous, so says the card.

By card three the wonder of the deep title is beginning to look mighty shaky, the Barnacle 'found adhering to floating timbers'. I mean how deep is that. Again this was a little creature that gave my hours of innocent fun as a nipper. Finding them stuck to rocks they were always a challenge to prise them free. There was never much hope of this hapenning but it did not stop me trying.

The cards are not confined to the waters about the shores of Britain and by card 4 we are looking at The Magpie Turbo which lives in rocky places on the Island of Trinidad.

I just have to mention card five, it is the jelly-fish and imparts a bit of information which if I had known it at an earlier age would have given me hours of fun. The jelly-fish is made up of large quantities of water. That is fair enough but the next thing is the revelation, if you put a jelly-fish on a piece of blotting paper it will evaporate away until only the vaguest of outlines is left.

Actually this is such a revelation I might just try it out anyway. Despite warnings about the cone shells ability to bite Players mention the stinging ability of the jelly-fish but make no mention of the box jelly-fish, a real watery killer.

Players, wonders of the deep

Things are slightly improved on card 34 where the Portuguese Man-of-war can be found. Floating on the surface by a means of a large bladder it blows along in the breeze with tentacles beneath the water up to 50 feet in length. Rare visitors to British shores 'the natives on the shores of tropical seas fear them more than they do sharks' due to the fact 'their stinging powers being of almost deadly virulence.' Mind you if you had collected the earlier card without this one by the time you got this beast onto your blotting paper you would have arms like barrage balloons at best.

Finally, card 9 has something depicted which does live in deep water, Glass-sponges, living from 100 to 3000 fathoms deep. Card 46 has the Glass-rope sponge and has been dragged from as deep as 345 fathoms off Tokio.

Card 7 has a very interesting title, 'Shark's Egg.' Imagine the wonder that would cause. Quite what shark they are talking about is not really mentioned. They are actually showing my old favourite the mermaids-purse (or sea-purse as this card calls them.) It does not really give enough detail on the reverse of the card. If you were still smoking in 1928 and swapped brands to Wills you would discover a series called, The Sea-Shore where card 7 (lovely coincidence) would tell you about the egg of the blonde ray, which low and behold is the same thing Players told you was a sharks egg.

Card 10 has to get a mention for one simple reason, look closely on the front of the card and around the border is a series of numbers. Players went to the trouble of placing those numbers so they could reference individuals on the reverse of the card, it shows a neat attention to detail which makes cigarette cards rather jolly.

Card 11 has got sea-weeds on it. As holiday-makes rush to the sea to take in huge lungfulls of 'ozone', exclaiming how fresh it all is, more than likely they are taking in great lung fulls of rotting seaweed. Best they consider it ozone. Sea-weeds also appear on cards 17, 18, 30, 40 and 45. You can just imagine the compiler racking his brain, a series of 50 cards is needed and running out of things he has found washed up on his local beach, finally giving up, more sea-weed.

Anemones are also a popular theme in this set. The only thing I know about these things is I cannot pronounce the name more than once before I forget how to say it. Very amusing for all but me.

Card 12 has got a most curious creature, Sepiola. Never seen one myself it looks a bit like a squid with big ears. Only three inches long it lies half submerged in the sand (could explain why I am not seeing many of them). They lie in wait for anything edible to pass by, quite what it considers edible is not mentioned. In case something three inches long half buried in the sand stands out to much they have the happy knack of being able to change colour too. Players finish this card off with the unlovely, 'not unfrequently found.' Tell me I don't know nothing, but come on.

Details from Card
Hammer Oyster
From its peculiar shape bearing a rude resemblance to a hammer, it derives its popular name - Hammer-Oyster. It is of the same family as the 'Pearl-Oysters'. In speaking of pearl oysters the Chinese priests often insert in a species of pearl-mussel, small images of Buddha, which soon become covered with pearl, and firmly embedded to the shell, the production being to the uninitiated Chinese devotee a supernatural testimony to the truth of Buddhism.

The hammer oyster is something else and the reverse of the card is a marvellous example of tangential thinking. Also good to see Buddha appears in unlikely places along with Allah images appearing in vegtables and Christ appearing as a potato snack. I think Buddha has the edge though in this line up of how to re-appear to the faithful. Although Elvis appears as a cloud every so often.

Card 38 deals with the pearl-oyster and the industry it supports in Ceylon. This has been going on for 2000 years or so according to the reverse of the card and the accumulation of the shells is enormous. I should say it must be, extending for miles several feet thick. The oysters are brought to the surface by divers and then placed upon the ground and left to putrefy (bet there is a real smell of ozone there). Once this has happened the oyster is examined minutely. 'As many as 2 million have been brought ashore in one day.' The number is mind-boggling even if you divided it by four. Imagine that much rotting oyster on the beaches. Hardly credible, whose counting these things.

Card 19 shows star fish, &c, great fun to recreate those ninja death stars without cleaving your mates head in two. Long considered a scourge by fishermen they would rip them apart and throw them back into the sea. At least I saw it happen on a television show once. Not the right thing to do according to the reverse of the card which mentions a starfish has some pretty amazing powers of re-generation and in time each arm is capable of growing into a fully formed star fish. Quite how this happens I don't know, can't be eating much whilst it grows another mouth which makes you wonder how it is growing anything.

Card 23 seems relatively inoffensive in the scheme of things but turning the card over the poor little lobster gets a complete character assassination, 'This grotesque-looking' it starts. Admittedly it seems to have a rather specialised feature which gives it the name, One-clawed Lobster and being dredged off the shores of the West-Indies from the 'enormous depth of 400 fathoms' it turns out it is totally blind, having no trace of either eyes or eye-stalks. It is only three inches long mind. I suspect the little fellow would have been a lot happier living 400 fathoms down rather than being dragged to the surface to be told it is ugly as sin.

Card 24 illustrates the Tun-Shell and the final words on the card illustrate something else, 'This mollusc is said to secrete sulphuric acid.' It is not known to do so, just said to do so. In 1904 it seems we just did not have a clue.

Moving on card 32 shows the Razor shell. This unusual creature exerts a strange power over me and has done for many a good year. The Greeks thought of them as a great delicacy and in 1904 Brits were munching a good many.

The card also has one of those ideas which always makes me chuckle. Apparently they can bore with such speed they are mighty difficult to dig up. Someone told me the same story about lug worms when I was a nipper. How they could dig through the sand at amazing speeds and it was going to be darn difficult digging them up. Armed with a fork I went down to the local beach to begin capturing these speedy beasts. I began with the sort of speed only previously achieved by cartoon characters. Sand going everywhere. On the basis that these lug worms were now in high gear I had to find them fast. Assuming I had already dug them up it was a matter of finding them before they bored back into the relatively safety of 50 foot of sand. Leaping into the spoil heap I searched frantically for the lug worm. I found it, an inert fat worm with rather less zip than the average earthworm.

Finally card 48, the sea-ear which actually lives in a rather beautiful shell we have all seen. A mother of pearl thing, very nice. I only really draw attention to it because of the final line, 'The soft part of the animal are eaten in Guernsey and Jersey, and considered delicious.' Clearly the compiler of the set did not.

So there you have it, perhaps not all that deep by todays standards (and lets face it stuff like the barnacle could not have been considered all that deep in 1904) but none the less a very interesting set, well crafted and deals with a subject that does not get all that many cards devoted to it.