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Cigarette card Variations
One of the things which makes cigarette card collecting so fascinating is the variations which can be gleaned. At first glance a set is a set is a set but it is not as simple as that. Not even close...

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Some people might have you believe it is all meant to be an arcane secret

A great deal of what I know on the subject of cigarette cards I rather take for granted everyone knows. I learnt this is arrogance on my part a while back some peoples lives do not revolve around cigarette cards, this was shocking enough but now I learn there are some people who postively dislike them (I've got an email to prove it). Most people live somewhere in between these two extremes. That has to be healthy.

Now I only know this stuff because I have read it, fortunately the history of cigarette cards is a written history rather than some sort of oral history passed down through the generations only being whispered into the ears of the choosen.

Some people might have you believe it is all meant to be an arcane secret but that is probably so they do not have to reveal how little they know.

So from one form of arrogance to another, here is an article about some of the finest distinctions that can be drawn between sets of cigarette cards and why they might be important or not. Before self-doubt puts an end to this page before it begins lets take a step forward.

Oh, one more thing, if you like eveything to have a place and for it to be in its place this page might not be for you.

Oh a last thing. I am not going to say one persons view is right and another is wrong, now that would be both arrogant and ignorant on my part. Once I have done all the research and can prove one way or another I am just going to be telling you there are differences of opinion and given the information you can make up your own minds, that's best for all concerned.


There has been a certain amount of relaxation in the cigarette card collecting world. When I first began the presence of a comma or not on the Players, Struggle for Existence set was something to worry about. Obviously there had been two print runs and right at the base of the card these runs could be distinguished by this comma. Apart from this the cards were identical in every respect.

Actually this is not quite true as the print colour is slightly different. In one variation it is reddish-brown and the other it is a chocolate-brown but you can only really tell what colour the printing is by finding that comma :-)

Multiple print-runs are nothing unusual and microscopic examination of cards can reveal a good many interesting details you would never see (yes I spend time looking at cards under a microscope).

Happily there has been a reduction in this level of 'fuss' in collecting. It is good to know the detail exists, as in the case of variations available in the Wills, Allied Army Leaders where various cards change as the leaders were promoted or died. To collect a set of these cards which came from the same print run would be quite an achievement as there are also variations in punctuation on these cards as well. Check out the article on this set for more information on this if that is what you are after.

The soft-focus approach has financial benefit to the collector. There were only so many Players, Struggle for Existence sets produced if you can differentiate you have effectively reduced the supply of either set so at any given level of demand the price will be higher. There is also a saving for the dealer because believe me checking for some variations is a job you would not wish on anyone.

Murray's states there were two printings of the Struggle for Existence set as it does for a number of issues. Players, Ships Figureheads is another, the numbers on the reverse of the card are 'serif' or 'sans-serif' both were issued in Oct 1912 and it would be churlish to try to divide the issue into distinct sets although possible to do so.

Detail from

Punctuation, promotion and death are to greater and lesser degrees important and I have sympathy with people that consider brushing these issues aside is a bit to close to the thin end of the wedge. I am not talking about variations on individual cards in this instance (I could write another website on that one, given the time and energy) but rather variations that run through an entire set of cards. I am also not talking about instances where the advertising on the reverse of the card has been altered. You would never want to mix a set up of G.Phillips, Actresses C series [1900] which comes in distinct brand advertisment variation ('Carriage', 'Teapot', 'Volunteer', 'Derby', 'Ball of Beauty', 'Horseshoe') That is you would never want to but usually have to otherwise you are going to become old and grey completing a set of the rarer back variations. Sometimes it is good to know when you are beaten.

Where though do you draw the line? What exactly is wedge and what is thin end, I would not for example be happy to think that one day the distinction between Players, Counties and their Industries [1914] which comes in an unnumbered series of 25 or a numbered series vanished.

I do not want to get to bogged down in detail (which is a sure sign I am about to) but traditionally an unnumbered series is arranged alphabetically which in this instance makes Bedford the first card of the unnumbered series but when Players put numbers on the cards it was number 11. This basic 'confusion' runs through the whole set, for whatever reason when numbers were added the set was not arranged alphabetically.

Murrays catalogue of cigarette cards which certainly is one of the most popular price guides and does a wonderful job states both these sets were issued in 1914. Could well be correct but the variations between the cards make a little more sense if you take another view. There is plenty of evidence to suggest the un-numbered series was produced sometime in 1910 and the numbered series was produced in 1914.

If you were not to differentiate between these sets then I think just a bit too much information would be lost in this instance.

Continued Overleaf : Dates, Colour & Corners

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Players, Counties and their Industries is not a particularly rare set and I find it a bit of a missed opportunity as I feel more counties could have been produced quite happily. Perhaps the series was just not all that popular at the time of issue, afterall they were sales incentives rather than something to be criticised some 80-90 years later. However when you see the card one thing will be apparent, the name does not appear on the card anywhere, it is an adopted title. It basically describes what the set is about. If you go back to some of the earlier texts on cigarette cards there are titles which you would not recognise now. Issued without a name in the first place they were given a title when examples were found and perhaps when other examples were found the name had to be altered to reflect the greater scope of the series. Wills, Double Meaning [1898] has also been known as 'Well-known sayings' and 'Everyday Phrases'.

Saturday, 17th May 2008