Cigarette cards - Cigarette cards were just a small cog in the Hollywood publicity machine, but a collection of them can put more stars in your hand for less money than any other medium. - Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals


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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Collectibles > Home of Trading Cards > Cigarette Cards
Cigarette Cards: 
Cigarette cards or tobacco cards come under the broad categories of trading cards or trade cards, ephemera, memorabilia and nostalgia. Cigarette card collecting is known as Cartophily. Cigarette and Tobacco manufacturers used fag cards to advertise their products.

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Many people are attracted to cigarette cards primarily for the pictures, but there is also much pleasure and instruction to be gained from the 'fine print'. The typography is often an impressive feat of design in miniature and the captions contain valuable information as well as a great deal of entertaining trivia. For the serious collector no detail is too small to notice.


Collecting Cigarette Cards


 Some of the most interesting cigarette cards ever produced feature natural history subjects that are beautifully illustrated.

 Natural history was one of the less common subjects to appear on cigarette cards before World War 1, although Player's issued 'Wild Animals of the World' in 1901, while Edwards, Ringer & Bigg produced 'Birds and their Eggs' in 1906 and F & J Smith brought out 'Fowls, Pigeons and Dogs' in 1908. After the war, natural history became popular as a welcome change from military subjects, actresses and sportsmen.


From a series of Tropical Birds by Allen and Ginter Cigarette Company in Richmond Virginia.This is called Cock of the Rock dated from 1880 to 1890 The illustrations are particularly fine and were often by some of the best artists of the day. In 1931 Player's issued a set of 'Wild Animals' Heads', from paintings by Arthur Wardle, and in 1928 their set 'Game Birds and Wild Fowl' was based on paintings by Roland Green. Their 1937 series of 'Wild Fowl' was illustrated by Sir Peter Scott, the ornithologist.

 Wildlife was often pictured in captivity, as on R & J Hill's 'Zoological Series' (1924), Player's 'Zoo Babies' (1938) and Ogden's 'Zoo Studies' (1937). A more unusual set, depicting animals in a natural environment, was Player's 'Animals of the Countryside' (1939).

 Domestic animals were also featured, and there were many sets illustrating breeds of dogs, including several series by Player's, painted by Arthur Wardle. Player's 'Live Stock' of 1925 beautifully illustrated the types of shire horse and top breeds of British cattle, sheep and pigs. 'Poultry' by Ogden's in 1915 and another set by Player's in 1931 show in fine detail the many attractive breeds.

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From a series of Tropical Birds by Allen and Ginter Cigarette Company in Richmond Virginia.This is called Cock of the Rock dated from 1880 to 1890 There have been almost as many issues on wild birds and their eggs as on footballers and cricketers. One of the earliest was Wills's 'British Birds' in 1917 and one of the rarest, Gallaher's 'Birds Nests & Eggs' in 1919.  Wills's 'Life in the Treetops' depicted birds on their nests - and also bats and squirrels.

 Another unusual theme was Player's 'Curious Beaks' of 1929, which showed birds such as the Crossbill whose beaks are adapted to their feeding habits. Game birds, cage birds, British and foreign birds all appeared on cards, together with their eggs and young.

 The beautiful colours and intricate patterns of butterflies and moths lent themselves to illustration. Wills, for example, issued an attractive and accurately illustrated set of 'British Butterflies', and in 1938 they brought out 'Butterflies and Moths', a set of 40 large cards that showed them life-size.
One of the finest early sets was Gallaher's 'Woodland Trees', a set of 100 from 1912 which is now a rare 'classic'.

 Another attractive set which is easier to find is 'Flowering Trees and Shrubs' (Wills, 1924). Wills also brought out sets of 'Wild Flowers' in 1923 and again in 1936. They covered gardening in series such as 'Garden Life' (1914) and 'Old English Garden Flowers' (1910/1913).

 Cigarette cards are attractive and were always popular with children. Natural history appealed to these young collectors, and many of the cards were highly informative as well as beautifully designed. The major producers all issued numerous sets depicting mammals, flowers, trees, birds and their eggs, farm animals, butterflies and moths.


 Cartophily, or cigarette-card collecting, is a popular hobby and there are a number of specialist dealers. They publish annual catalogues of virtually all the cards in existence, with their prices. These offer a useful guide to the relative value of cards, but bear in mind that they include an element for the dealer's overheads and profit, and they will buy sets for about half the price.

 Auctions, antiques shops, junk shops and antiques fairs offer a better prospect of an unexpected bargain if you know what you are looking for. Dealers usually sell cards in complete sets (which vary in number, although sets of 25 and 50 were popular). There is little point in buying odd cards, unless they are of great rarity, or you enjoy the challenge of tracking down cards to make up your own set.

 The condition of the cards affects their value. To maintain their condition it is essential to protect them from damp, dust and excessive heat or sunlight. Don't wrap sets with a tight rubber band, which may in time cut into the cards and distort them. Specially made albums are available, with loose-leaf transparent PVC pages with pockets for 10 cards per sheet. Cards stored like this are protected and can be seen and handled easily.

 To display cards on the wall, ready-cut mounts and double glass frames are available, so that you can see the reverse of the cards as well. Do keep your framed cards out of strong sunlight, as this soon makes their colours fade.


 Natural history is an interesting theme for a collection of cards. Often superbly illustrated, the cards make an attractive display and provide a wealth of interesting facts. They also record the way that attitudes to the natural world have changed since the early years of the century - a time when collecting birds' eggs was a popular hobby for boys, when heavy horses still pulled farm machinery, when many people kept pigeons, poultry and small livestock, and when wild animals were familiar only in zoos, or as providers of fur.
Some people collect novelty cards, such as Kensitas's 'Flowers' which were embroidered on silk. Each flower was enclosed in a paper folder giving details of the subject.

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