Cigarette cards - Football, cricket and horse racing were the three most popular sporting subjects on Edwardian cigarette cards, sets of which are not only attractive but also very collectable - Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals


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Toddy & Co, one of the smaller tobacco manufacturers, issued two sets entitled 'Famous Jockeys' in 1911. They are very similar, but one set has a narrow gold herder and the other does not. The cards without the border are somewhat rarer than those with it and therefore are more expensive.

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.

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.

Collecting Cigarette Cards


 Football, cricket and horse racing were the three most popular sporting subjects on Edwardian cigarette cards, sets of which are not only attractive but also very collectable

 The collector interested in sports will discover a wealth of appealing subjects on Edwardian cigarette cards.  One of the most popular categories during this 'golden age' of cigarette cards was horse racing.

 Examples of famous horses and jockeys of the time can be found quite easily.  However, sports that had a more limited public appeal wrestling, for example - will generally present more of a challenge to the card collector.

 Cigarette cards were a development from the illustrated business cards that were given away by retailers in France in the 1840s. In the United States the idea caught on with tobacco manufacturers.

 Their first cards were separate items, given away by the tobacconist when a purchase was made. Soon, however, they found their way into the cigarette pack.

 In about 1878, someone thought of replacing the piece of cardboard used to stiffen the paper cigarette pack with an illustrated promotional trade card.

 In Britain, cigarette cards took a little longer to catch on, with the first sets probably appearing in the late 1880s.  However, the Tobacco War (1900-1902) - a period of intense competition between American and British tobacco companies - caused an enormous increase in the number of cigarette cards produced in Britain.  By about 1900, the hobby of collecting the cards was firmly established.

 The first 'golden age' of cartophily, or cigarette-card collecting, lasted throughout Edward VII's reign and into World War 1, until a paper shortage in 1917 put an end to production for several years.

 During this period, the vast majority of smokers were men, and the illustrations on cards usually reflected male interests - beautiful women, military subjects and various sports.

 British sporting cigarette cards naturally concentrated on the most popular games in the country.  Football or cricket appeared on about 70 per cent of the Edwardian sets.  Horse racing and other riding events came a poor third, with about 10 per cent.

 This, however, is still about three times as many as were issued for each of the next most popular sports - boxing and golf.  Other sporting subjects that were of limited interest at the time are now highly prized. For example, cards showing wrestling are rare and valuable.

 Other sports covered on British cards include polo, athletics, coursing, swimming, fishing, ju jitsu and billiards.  On American cards, baseball is by far the most featured sport.

 Although most series were devoted to one sport, some covered a wide range, often including obscure pursuits of limited appeal, such as the techniques of tent pegging.


 Most cigarette cards are about 6.4 x 3.2cm (2 1/2 x  l inches), but there are many exceptions.  A few were smaller, and there is a range of larger sizes going up to the then standard postcard size of 14 x 9cm (5 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches) and beyond.

 Not all were rectangular and, while they were all referred to as cards, some were in fact made from other materials, including plastic, metal and fabrics such as silk.

 Novelty cards like these include the 1901 sets of small, circular, celluloid 'buttons', produced by the American Tobacco Company, depicting cricketers and jockeys. These had pins on the back and could be worn as badges or fixed to a special souvenir card.

American Tobacco Cards

American Tobacco Cards:
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Robert Forbes, Terence Mitchell
Paperback (1999)


 Of all the cigarette cards featuring horses and riders, the most popular are those connected with racing.  A few show races in progress, but 'portraits' of horses and/or jockeys were generally more suitable subjects for reproduction on a small card.

 Cards entitled 'Horses of Today', issued in 1906 by Wills for Capstan, Vice Regal and Havelock cigarettes, show jockeys sitting on racehorses in rural settings. On the back of each card are details of the horse, including its breeding, age and race wins. Other sets depict similar scenes, but with the jockeys standing beside their mounts.

 Ogden's 1906 set of 50 cards of 'Owners Racing Colours and jockeys' shows close-ups of jockeys in the racing colours of the owners for whom they rode. In a 1914 25-card set of the same name (but with a comma after the word 'Owners'), each card shows a portrait of the owner alongside the jockey.

 W D & H O Wills issued an unusual 25-piece set in 1914. When correctly arranged, the cards formed a complete panorama of Derby Day at Epsom racecourse.


 On football and cricket cards - the two most popular sports - players from various teams were featured in each set, as these had to appeal to people in different parts of Britain.

 Many people interested in collecting whole sets of footballers prefer the coloured art cards to the black and white photographic types so that they can see the colours worn by the various teams featured. One of the best Edwardian examples is Ogden's 1908 set of close-ups of 50 'Famous Footballers'.

 For fans attending matches, Ogden's produced novelty cards in eye-catching team colours; the cards tapered and were designed to be worn in a buttonhole or on a hat.

 Several sets showing close-ups of cricketers were produced during this period, notably by Taddy and by Wills. The 1903 issue by Wills, showing Australian cricketers in action, wrongly depicts the well-known player E Jones bowling with his left arm.

 Many other sports appeared on cigarette cards, but the less popular ones may be found on only a small number of cards in mixed sporting sets. For example, few cards were issued on tennis or cycling during this period, although these sports became more popular in later years.


 When they first appeared, cigarette cards were often used by schoolboys for card games. These games usually involved flicking the cards and such cards now have little value because of their dirty condition and damaged corners.

  At the same time there were serious collectors who treasured their cards and stored them carefully in albums. So most sets, even many of the early ones, are still available in good or even mint condition.

 Cigarette companies often issued albums in which to collect sets. Once the cards were mounted in an album, their backs could not be seen, so any information printed there was generally repeated in the album, alongside the spaces for the cards.

 Sets can be kept in their original albums or stored in modern albums with clear plastic pages that allow the backs to he seen as well as the fronts.

 Alternatively, sets or other groups of cards may be framed for display on a wall. It is more economical to do the framing yourself, using a kit purchased from one of the major cigarette card dealers.

 The frames come in several sizes, with mounts ready cut to take various numbers and sizes of cards. The mounts hold the cards without damage, and the frames are glazed on both sides so that the backs of the cards can be inspected.

 One of the most important factors determining the price of cigarette cards is their condition. The first and last cards of a set which has been stored in numerical order in a wad held together by an elastic band often become damaged.

 For this reason, the first and last cards in a series are generally more difficult to find in pristine condition. Most serious collectors, however, are interested in buying complete sets, ideally in their original albums, rather than individual cards.


Damaged cards have little value, although the subject matter may appeal.
If you are offered an apparently rare card at a bargain price, beware - it could be a modern reprint of little value. Look for a 'reprint' warning on the back or any sign that one has been removed.
Wrong captions or spelling mistakes are regarded merely as interesting oddities and, contrary to what happens with postage stamps, do not usually command a premium.

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