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The fire in which we burn.

I t would seem there is a certain
Some 1907 UK stats with a familiar ring:
A US banking Crisis in 1907 has cost the bank of England half its gold reserves
The Bank Rate had been pushed up to 7% which was the highest since 1873
Unemployment had risen to 8.7%
Growth of National Income had fallen from 2.5% to 1.75%
Employment of domestic servants had fallen to 1.5 million

stage in your life when you perceive you have garnered enough wisdom through longevity or experience to say, "those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it." Or words to that effect.

This is never used to suggest you are about to strike gold in your back garden because of your lack of knowledge of the Klondyke gold rush. More that you are going to starve to death halfway up a mountain trying to eat frozen beans having spent your last dime on materials for a letter back home explaining you are having a wonderful time.

Still it is amazing to discover there are people out there willing to suspend disbelief enough to think that boom will not be followed by bust.

Equally surprising to find doom-sayers who fail too see the long term upward trend.

History itself is not all it's cracked up to be, written by the victors it is endlessly distilled by the moral values of the day.

All this just about serves as an introduction to the set of cards, Wills, Time and Money in Different Countries [1908].

I like to see order in a set of cigarette cards

The set is one of the artistic achievements of the period combined with a remarkable quantity of information given with a clarity which speaks of much thought.

Comparisons between this page and the set are not entirely welcome.

The front of the card is dominated by a head and shoulders illustration of a national stereotype in perceived national dress. In defence of the set these illustrations are not alarming racial stereotypes as could easily have been the case in 1908. It has to be admitted some of the text on the reverse of the cards leaves a little to be desired with its talk of Western influences etc.

Sharing space on the front is a clock face showing the time at the country's capital in comparison to noon at GMT., next to this and illustration of the local currency with its value in comparison to English currency. A small caption at the base of a card gives you the name of the currency and even its diameter.

GMT has not changed over the years which a brief scan of the set will reveal is the only thing that has remained constant. Ownership of country's have changed, names of the country's have changed and certainly the exchange rates have changed.

That would be a relatively impressive selection of information but those of us that know Wills know this would not be the end of it. On the reverse of the card population statistics, religious convictions, manufacturing base, army statistics and mineral wealth are all considered fair game for inclusion. That is not to forget the one sentence potted political history often included. Card 9, Africa even considers the fact that it is 4196 miles away from London worth a mention . Apart from the last bit of information which almost has to be true the information on the reverse of the cards is deliciously out of date. A good many things have changed since the issue of these cards (in the case of Western Australia the size of the place also seems to have altered in the last 100 or so years as well).



I like to see order in a set of cigarette cards, even if of the most arcane nature. The set starts with Italy and continues in a manner which suggests it is not alphabetically ordered. I had hoped to discover it was ordered in terms of time differences but that is not the case.

Clutching at straws I checked to see if it had something to do with the relative strengths of the local currencies. This looked hopeful for the first four cards but the 5th, Japan, blew this theory out of the water. With Russia as the 4th card there was not even any chance of it being based on, population statistics or land mass. At this point I just had to admit defeat and accept there is no order to the set (and no it is not based on the diameter of the local currency).

This strikes me as something of a shame given all the clever ways the set could have been ordered, or perhaps it is just too clever for me to work out.

For all of you that enjoy the trivia of cards (and who doesn't) the dates on the coins are quite interesting. Most of the coins, as you would expect, have dates between 1900 and 1904 (a translation of some of the more esoteric coinage would be interesting). Quite why Switzerland has a date as the early as 1877 here is something of a mystery. Potentially more interesting is the fact that card 26, India, has a coin with a date of 1905.



Regular readers of this site will know I have an almost unhealthy interest with correct issue dates.

Other points in my favour is the fact Wills issued the set as an overseas set 1907.

The fact that Smith issued this set as Nations of the World in 1923 has little bearing on anything it would seem.

There is reasonable evidence the set was issued in May 1906 but this might be pushing things a bit too far.

One final observation of no importance before I move on is the fact that on some cards the clock face is on the left-hand side and on others the right-hand side why this should be the case is quite beyond me.

Uncharitable types are always going to suggest the reason cards such as this existed in Great Britain during this period was because, despite the fact America had escaped our imperial grasp, large lumps of the globe belonged to us.

Certainly there were a great many cards produced to this end but I would not say this was one. A good percentage being Republics such as card 49, Brazil or rival empires such as Russia and our new-found friend at the time, Japan.

Card 4
This vast empire is nearly 8.5 million square miles in extent, with a population of 128 millions. Capital St.Petersburg: pop. 1,313,300. Russia is the largest producer of petroleum in the world, and is also a great wheat-growing centre. The active army totals over 4,500,000. The established religion is the Russo-Greek Church.

The Russian card was prepared before the revolution and St Petersburg was the capital. If you were preparing a card in the 1990's the following stats would have been appropriate: The largest country in the world, covering over 10% of the worlds land mass covering an area of 6 592 800 square miles with a population of 148 000 000. The Capital, Moscow has a population of 8 967 000 with St Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) the second largest at 5 020 000. Economically it is in crisis despite the fact it is one of the largest producers of coal, iron-ore, steel, petroleum and cement in the world. It sort of proves the more things change the more they remain the same.

Old enemies such as France, Spain are included alongside soon to be enemies Germany. The reverse of the German card notes it has a regular army of over 4 million. Austria had an army of 380,000 and France having 550,000 troops, so no reason for alarm there.

To put the German army in perspective it seems that according to the reverse of the Russian card they had a standing army of 4.5 million and the US army had a peace time capacity of 64,000 men.

Also it would seem Germany was 90 per cent self-sufficient. Can't see any trouble brewing there.

Moving away from this subject the reverse of the cards also show how dominant natural resources were too any economy. Austria's principal industry being Agriculture which employed 50 per cent of the population. Siam being something of a mono product exporter with rice making up 80 per cent of the export market. This it would seem being pretty much the pattern in Burma also.

Morocco is included although it seems almost a mystery to the compiler as the population is estimated at between 4.5 and 8 million. Run as an absolute monarchy its principal exports include eggs, goat skins and almonds, which seems about as unlikely as possible.

Afghanistan has the interesting fact it receives a subsidy of £120,000 annually from the Indian government, no explanation is given as to why this would be.

Australia gets special mention in the set. On card 28 it appears as Australia and then, card 48 there is Western Australia. This is handy for my purposes as the Western Australia card includes the alarming text, "The advent of civilisation brought ruin to the Aborigines, who are becoming gradually extinct." The same trick is done when America is split up by card 11 labelled 'Indian territory' and card 46, US America. This time the decline for native Americans is put down to an inability to live within the restraints of civilised life and a lack of agricultural skills.

Nothing unusual would have been made of these statements when the set came out even though it seems tricky not to question such statements in the light of the fact these people had been doing rather well for themselves before Western civilisation.

It seems almost churlish to complain the history is rather sterilised given there are very easily defined limits to the amount of information that can be compressed on the reverse of a card. There is certainly no mention of the more unfortunate consequences of a country being discovered. Certainly of the many differences the set would have if it was brought up to date this would be primary among them.


Natal was so named from being discovered by the Portuguese on Christmas Day, 1497. Formally declared to be a British colony in 1843. It comprises an area of 35,371 square miles with a population of 1,108,754. Captial: Pietermaritzburg; population 31,199. The principal exports are oil, coal, gold, and unrefined sugar.

A charming detail to assume we should all be so much the wiser as to why the country was named Natal because the Portuguese discovered it on Christmas Day. Also illustrates the tendency to give an accuracy which could not possibly exist, or at least is completely irrelevant because of lack of the date. It could well be there was a population of 1,108,754 in the country as a whole and 31,199 in the capital but without a date it is almost as meaningless as the card stating a population of between 4.5 and 8 million (although not quite).

In a set of 50 cards there is an interesting omission in that England in whatever guise does not appear in the set. Even more peculiar when you do consider Australia and America have two cards each which whilst reflecting the dual nature of the population could have been handled differently especially as it appeared to be a chance to run down the indigenous population. It would have been a good opportunity to tell everyone just how fantastic Great Britain was, as was the fashion of the time.