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Swimming is not a subject close to my heart. I live by the sea and if that doesn't cure anyone of the idea of going for a swim then there is nothing anyone can do for them. Statistics suggest more swimmers drown than none swimmers which is something I can understand. If you cannot swim and jump into water beyond your depth you should have a generally good idea of what to expect. At least if you have any sort of passing association with things that think. However once you can do something you tend to believe you are rather better at it than the evidence should suggest. Every year a great number of 'better than average drivers' make rather 'less than average' driving decisions, the same can be said for a lot of 'better than average swimmers.'

Swimming for me is lumped into the same survival category.

Swimmers always point out the fact that it is a darn good way of getting fit. It is, but I always wonder fit for what, more swimming is the usual answer. When it comes to levels of fitness, I am a 'form follows function' man. I sit in a chair all day and occasionally make cups of coffee and pound away at a keyboard in-between shifting bits of card.

Now it can only be pure genetic make-up that keeps me a twelve stone weed rather than a twenty-six stone weed. You are not going to find me tracking wild animals over huge distances before running in for the kill, strangling the beast with my very own powerful arms rather like some Tarzan figure. Truth is I head to Tesco if I am in a food gathering mood. Tarzan would look like me in my position and I would look like Tarzan in his. Although I doubt I would be as clean shaven.

Keeping fit in the sense of swimming etc seems a totally artificial exercise to me, I'm fit enough to do all the things necessary. This does not include swimming twelve miles, it is not a skill I see as necessary. I am probably not fit enough to out run a rabid dog but I give myself good odds at out pacing an ax-wielding maniac in a straight line.

Swimming for me is lumped into the same survival category. If I found myself in the water I could scramble my way to the bank. Anyone remember how Rolf Harris '...somehow managed to scramble his way to the bank. Frightened the life out of my Mum and Dad.' I wonder if he does as it was a public service advert about learning to swim.

Potentially one of the most focused themes for cigarette cards are the 'How to...' type sets of cards. Godfrey Phillips were a fan of this style with the How to make wireless equipment etc. These were the days when you did actually make things like this rather than go down the shops and buy one for about a fifth of the cost of making one . Partly because you could not go down the shops and just buy one and when you could they were expensive.

Anyway this is not about wireless, otherwise what the blazes have I been doing blathering on about swimming.

No more clues then, this is Ogdens, How to Swim [1935].

I am now racking my brains to remember then name of the fellow that announced you could learn anything from books. Unable to swim he decided a bit of book learning would furnish him with all the necessary facts to enable him to swim.

A bit of book learning later he threw himself into the local lake and a mixture of self-preservation, learning and a fair bit of luck he survived the experience by all accounts. It all happened back in the 1930's as far as I am aware but have not been able to locate the reference apart from a half remembered fragment from my memory. Might even have used this set of cigarette cards, though I might be pushing the truth envelope there.

There is no way on God's small earth I am suggesting you get this set of cigarette cards read the reverse of them and then launch yourself into the local water supply. I'm certainly not going too.

Ogdens, 50 cards dedicated to the art of getting from A to B whilst partially submerged in water.

The figure doing all the swimming, in water of such an amazing colour it must be close to a chemical plant outlet, is a woman. It looks like the same woman, although the artist has changed her swimming costume to make the different strokes more identifiable.

As during this period women were still wearing considerable quantities of clothing in and out of the water this could be the reason for the female being used. A chap would not have been able to alter his wardrobe with quite such clarity between swimming lessons.

So card one sees our model in the water, complete with swimming cap and showing us the breast stroke.

A long time ago (at school) a friend of mine had been set the project of illustrating the actions involved in doing up a tie. Being of female origin my friend was at an immediate disadvantage as doing-up a tie is not a major life skill for the female of the species. Anyway the exercise threw-up all manner of problems and it certainly is worth conducting a quick experiment and producing a cartoon strip for doing up a tie, you soon realise why you don't often see cartoon characters wear ties or tie shoelaces in close-up.

By the second card most people should be wondering what on earth Ogdens (there were other companies that produced this set of cards) were actually trying to achieve. Working conditions were improving and many people were enjoying annual holidays which they would more often than not spend going to the coast where many would met a large volume of water for the first time for recreational purpose. Back to home swimming in the local canal was rarely a good idea.

It might have been with this in mind they constructed the set which now looks like something a person looking to win the Darwin award might like to use.

I suspect the doggy paddle is the most natural of swimming strokes given the fact it has no real points for style it is all about wriggling your arms like fury and kicking your legs till it feels like your feet have been turned into hamburgers. Now sign of this stroke here. An unlucky 13 cards a dedicated to the Breast stroke.

Details from Card 9
The Breast Stroke: Breathing (inhaling)
In the breast stroke breath is inhaled during the arm pull. The head is raised sufficiently high to life the chin above the water at the exact moment the arms open for the outward and backward pull. Air must be taken into the lungs through the open mouth, never through the nostrils. If air is drawn through the nose there is a decided risk of swallowing any water which may happen to be lying in the nasal passages, thus causing choking. The intake of air through the mouth should be an easy, slow movement performed after each stroke.

Nothing is left to chance as can be seen by the example wording from the reverse of a card. Even breathing in (card 10 deals with the breathing out bit) is treated with some serious care. That is generally the easy bit the other cards rather resemble one of the instructions you get with your video machine. You know the sort once the Koreans have built a fantastic video recorder they suddenly discover us Westerners will not know how to operate it (right in one) so quickly have to locate the tea boy who happens to have watched the odd episode of Friends and so is an expert in the Ingulish langwdju.

Anyway Ogdens have assumed 13 bits of card have given you more than enough knowledge to perform the Breast stroke so with a quick change of costume (a fetching one piece tiger suit) we move onto the Crawl. This is tricky stuff now. We have all seen it done but that first time you are told you breathe out with your face in the water all hell breaks loose. Card 25 does suggest you breathe out forcibly otherwise 'water will force its way into the throat to cause choking.' Mind you breaking every stroke and forcibly expelling air sounds like a classic ingredients for a bit of hyper ventilation.

Card 27 tells you the isolation of limb movement is a vital ingredient to a successful swimming action.

Card 29 has a another change of costume, looking a lot like the first, it actually has a black stripe on the 'trunks' rather than white.

By now Ogdens have lost all sense of perspective. If the first 27 cards have not put you in hospital or you have not needed the services of the local life saving group then from card 28 onwards I would rather cross a busy road blindfolded than attempt the Double arm backstroke. We really are moving away from anything which could be considered a natural swimming style and the further you move from the natural order of things the more dangerous it has to be. Nature is not known for taking unnecessary risks so why did we have to invent the double arm backstroke. The cards do not make a single suggestion concerning the risk, you are going to drown, perhaps the compiler was a strong believer in strong positive attitude keeping you afloat. If anyone was going to achieve yogic flying then this was the man.

Again the isolated limb action is much in evidence (card 39) where it calmly explains the idea 'is to perform all the limb movements without disturbing the head or body position.' For most of us the isolated limb movement will have the sole purpose of ensuring our head remains above water long enough to be rescued.

The final stroke on the cards is the back crawl stroke.

Clearly Ogdens were not in the business of 'dumbing down' content. If you could not swim like a fish then just drown and be done with it.