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Ferns and frills

great many cards promoted its local area. Partly this was an economic decision as a good many companies had a very strong local customer base and producing cards based on this regional strength improved sales on the 'us against them' basis. It is a pretty well worn policy and works darn well as long as the 'underdog' mentality does not become endemic.

James Pascall Ltd, a confectionary company produced a number of sets, before, during and after the First World War. The production of the sets ended in a burst of 'regionalism' in 1929.

18 sets are catalogued and during the War years the sets were standard King and Country stuff but afterwards it became heavily regionalised. The region, Devon.

the 'Beastly Boot of Bodmin' was not caught mangling innocence plant life.

There is one set which stands out from the sets, Felix, The Film Cat (1928, set of 10 cards) as being at total odds with the others in the group.

Anyway I choose to examine the set, Devon Ferns [1927] a series of 30 cards and also Devon Flowers [1927] a series of 30 cards.

I like this sub-set as it is a fine example of the fact you can get almost any subject on cigarette cards and a set devoted to ferns found in Devon must be pretty specialised indeed.

Despite various attempts at education I am absolutely hopeless at identifying plants. They are all green to me and although they do not look the same I am more likely to be able to guess a complete strangers name than I am identify a plant. This could be the set for me then.

We are becoming more aware of the impact we have upon our environment but it tends to be an awareness of what other people are doing to the ecosystem. Britain no longer has any ancient forest (or much forest at all) so we can watch the television and shake our heads (and fists) at those people busy cutting down the rain forests, even burning it down to create fields to grow crops. The next news article might be about 'unemployed lay-abouts' strapping themselves into trees to stop a new road being built in the UK. These people are branded as fringe lunatics living off social security we want them off the land and those trees uprooted fast because we really need that hundred miles of tarmac tearing through the green belt. To my mind this is a perfect example of why a welfare system should be in place. In most instances I'd rather pay somebody to look after a tree for me than pay someone to cut it down and give me another supermarket selling eco-friendly products.

Then there are the developments which are stopped because there is a rare plant in its path. Uproar at this point, whole developments stopped because of one plant, has the world gone mad! Quite possibly.


We all know what a tiger looks like and cannot imagine killing one, a rare and majestic species only the most vile of individuals would think of killing one. Certainly I could recognise a tiger if there was one lurking in the garden.

Card 18 of Devon Ferns shows a green weed, turns out it is a Forked Speenwort Fern and categorised as very rare back then. If I had the last known example of it in the world growing in my back yard it would be out by the roots before you could say, 'vile individual'. That said there probably would not be anyone within 50 miles to actually call me a vile individual. I could parade the limp Forked Speenwort Fern up and down the high street and nobody would care. It would be a different story if I had the bleeding carcass of a tiger. It is a matter of scale but once that scale gets to zero it is a pretty level playing field you are looking at, the thing simply no longer exists.

Then again what does it matter if a fern becomes extinct, probably not a lot but the lower down the food chain you go the bigger the impact is likely to be. Snuff out humans, top of the food chain, the world is most likely to be a better place (although my dogs might have to learn to use can openers pretty quick).

The card illustrates the fern and its root which is quite a novelty, but as ever they all look the same to me. Card 23 the Prickly Shield Fern looks very similar to the Sweet Mountain Fern, mind you when the things have been reduced down to the size of these cards hardly amazing. There are differences but it would seem a matter of where you find them growing as being the biggest aid to identification.

Remember that song with the line, 'Where have all the flowers gone? Young girls picked them everyone.' So it goes on, I think it was about the destruction of the countries men in time of war. A good few years ago I was on some blasted heath tramping about with someone that knew a thing or two about rare plants (so much green to me but it was one of those 'educational' moments where interest had to at least appear possible). Anyway I was forever having to watch my feet in case I mangled something horribly rare. It was a bit of the countryside which was secret in the sense it had some pretty rare plants growing in the area. Prison sentences could be handed out for the removal of these things so I was being pretty dainty with the feet, imagine confessing to plantocide. A good lawyer would probably have got me off on second degree charges and I would be out for good behaviour. I expect the parole board would stipulate no flower arranging but that would not be a problem.

Details from Card
Royal Fern
A fern which is becoming less common in Devonshire, owing to the activities of the plant collectors, is the Royal Fern. It is truly a king among ferns, and under favourable conditions, in wet and boggy ground near a stream, it will attain a height of five feet or more! The leaves are finely divided and pale green in colour, but the distinguishing feature is the special fruit-bearing branches that lift themselves above the surrounding foliage. It is on account of this feature that it is sometimes called 'the Flowering Fern.'

Anyway this did not happen, or at least the 'Beastly Boot of Bodmin' was not caught mangling innocence plant life. Later in the day though we saw someone coming towards us with a whole bundle of plant things having been torn from the soil by the elderly flower lover. My eyes nearly came out on springs but my reaction was nothing compared to my companion who nearly needed physically restraining. Thankfully plantocide had not been committed on this occasion and the 'plant police' were not needed.

Card 3 of the series is something called an Adder's tongue. It would seem that it reminded country-folk of just that. The reverse of the card says so, 'Country folk have a happy way of calling plants by very suitable names.'

Card 21, Brittle Bladder Fern (imagine suffering from Brittle Bladder, let alone knowing what one looks like) is described as very rare and requests that people finding the stuff not remove it as it will not survive the removal and replanting however well intentioned. The card notes a particular variety of this plant grows in sea caves and will be between 4 to 8 inches in height. Goodness knows if it still exists.

Brittle Bladder is one thing but card 2 of Devon Flowers is something else. It has a subtle fragance by all accounts. 'One of the most striking of our wild flowers' apparently, with 'aromatic leaves'. The leaves could be made into a tea to soothe feverish patients. Its name, 'Bastard Balm'. How quaint and how suitable.

There are a lot of plants in the world but surely we had not run out of words to call them, how on earth does a flower end up with a name like that.

Mind you by card 27 (Devon Flowers) we are presented with something revelling in the name of Navalwort. Again a plant described as having uses in herbal remedies, could be a cure for Navalwort for all I know and a darn good one as I have never heard of it. Mind you they say rhino-horn has certain uses but nobody thinks its a good idea shooting rhino's anymore, apart from the people that do of course.

Finally I draw your attention to the bottom of these cards where James Pascall tells us about a competition the firm was running. If you collected 100 cards (or a complete set) and sent them bag to the company they would send you a presentation casket of sweets and chocolates. That competition made these cards rarer than they needed to be as well, there should have been a law against that sort of thing too.