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Cigarette Cards - 'Collect-it' Magazine.


Cartophily - or collecting cigarette cards - is a long-established hobby with a wealth of documentation to help identify manufacturers, dates and values. Moreover, says Brenda Greysmith, it also combines the appeal of the miniature with a huge range of subjects, the vast majority of which are available at affordable prices.

Often beautifully produced and highly informative, cigarette cards reflect popular interests stretching back more than a century. In the 1880s, plain card was used simply to stiffen cigarette packets but their potential was quickly spotted. The first printed cigarette cards were produced in America but, although US cards were marketed for British consumers by 1885, it was another two years before UK manufacturers started to issue their own. However, it wasn't until about 1901 that cigarette cards really caught on and many thousands were issued by over 300 tobacco companies.
When cigarette cards were first launched, smokers were almost exclusively men and this male influence has permeated card themes ever since - militaria, motoring, planes and ships have all been popular. Sport dominates with the focus on cricket, soccer and golf in Britain and baseball in the US. Other subject matters depicted include birds, butterflies, flowers and pets. Prices for single original vintage cards range from 20p upwards and some sets can still be found for less than £10. Dealer Ian Murray of Murray Cards (International) has some useful advice for anyone just starting out. "The first thing the new collector should do is get hold of the book 'Cigarette Card Values' which will enable them to discover what's available. Then I would say they should begin by collecting cards on subjects that interest them,"
"When cigarette cards were first launched, smokers were almost exclusively men and this male influence has permeated card themes ever since"
Another dealer, Lee Towersey, suggests basing a collection around a specific brand. "You can collect by tobacco company: W.D. & H.O. Wills and John Player & Sons were the most common issuers of cigarette cards and produced lots of different sets between them. Most are easy to find as the majority of people smoked Players and Wills cigarettes. Alternatively, just look through a dealer's stock and buy whatever appeals"
While cards by both firms are generally very affordable, early examples can command high prices. Cigarette card pioneers Wills started issuing sets in 1895 and today one of its early Actress sets can fetch upwards of £725. In 1897, John Player also issued a set of 50 Actress cards which are now valued at about £1,000. It should be noted however that these cards are among the rarest and such prices are exceptional.

For the collector, it is vital to recognise the various factors that influence cigarette card values. Scarcity will add considerably to a card's worth, a good example being those that were printed but then withheld or withdrawn, while quality of design and printing also play their part. Collectability value is determined by the subtle differences that exist between cards. For instance, a successful series might be reissued in a different size, with the images re-drawn or slightly altered, or with a variety of different backs.
According to Lee, subject matter also affects values. "Most sports sets are relatively expensive, with the cost of football ones going up over the last year or so, and golf too ranking among the dearer sets. American cards also tend to be rather pricey." Condition is also vital. Although collectors differ as to what they find acceptable, cards stuck in albums are invariably much less valuable. To maximise your investment, Lee recommends that collectors always purchase cards in at least 'very good' condition.
Today, the market in reprinted cards is also thriving, with many being reproduced to allow everyone access to copies of the more expensive sets. One extreme example is the original Clowns and Circus Artists by Taddy, which only reached the proof stage: just 20 sets, valued at £13,000 each, were known to exist but the reprint is available for just £6.
Reprints are said not to have affected the price of originals and do not set out to deceive. "They are authorised copies of cigarette cards" explains Lee "and have some kind of indicator that they are reproductions, usually by way of additional print on the back such as 'Authorised reproduction by kind permission of Imperial Tobacco'. As a rule, repro cards are printed on stiffer card and the colours are 'flatter' compared with the originals."
"Although collectors differ as to what they find acceptable, cards stuck in albums are invariably much less valuable."
Some dishonest sellers try to pass reproductions off as originals and fakes have been created on home printers or by doctoring illustrations cut from books. Lee stresses that such deceptions are very rare but, even so, it's worth being wary when offered a rarity and only buying from reputable dealers. He suggests that; when purchasing a framed set described as an original, always check the back of the cards.
In fact, mass-produced modern reprints are often used for framed sets while more run-of-the-mill items are usually kept in good quality albums or binders, which allow you to see both the front, and back of the card. Select sets can be mounted in double-sided frames. Cigarette card dealers will either offer these services or materials - or be able to advise you on storage and mounting.
With so many series from so many manufacturers and both reprints and originals to consider, learning about cigarette cards can seem daunting. Fortunately, there are a number of well-illustrated introductory books and The Cartophilic Society publishes more detailed reference works on specific subjects. As well as the annual book 'Cigarette Card Values', there are also auction catalogues from Murray Cards (International) and The London Cigarette Card Co. to keep you abreast of prices in the current market. Cigarette card magazines are also a worthwhile investment.

Murray Cards runs monthly auctions at a London hotel with cards of all subjects ranging from single rare examples - both scarce and common sets - to thousands of odd cards. The firm holds in excess of 25,000,000 cards, supplying collectors through its two shops in London and by mail order.
It offers both originals and reprints: current reproductions include a set of 50 showing Prize and Game Chickens, originally issued by Allen & Ginter in 1915, now available at £10 the set. At the same time, a set of 50 cards on Pioneers, first issued in 1956 by Churchman, has been recently reprinted by Imperial Publishing and sells for £8.50. It includes such luminaries as Alexander Graham Bell, Christopher Columbus, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
Among the original new issues available from Murray Cards is a series of six by Golden Era featuring different models of Lambretta, priced at £2.50. Ten cards on British Warplanes of the Second World War from Rockwell cost £6.
Several football-related series have also been produced by Philip Neill, including 15 on Footballers of the Year from 1948-65, beginning with Stanley Matthews and including Nat Lofthouse, Billy Wright and Bobby Moore (price £5.50).
Another major player on the UK cigarette card scene is The London Cigarette Card Co., which has been supplying collectors around the world since 1927. Today, it stocks 70 million cards covering thousands of different series from the late 19th century onwards and featuring cards from cigarette companies as well as other firms such as Brooke Bond, Panini and Bassett (which have been issuing cards over recent decades). The LCCC sells via mail order and the Internet while its Somerset-based showrooms display over 2,500 sets, representing hundreds of different manufacturers and including more than 200 classic reprinted series.
"Some dishonest sellers try to pass reproductions off as originals and fakes have been created on home printers or by doctoring illustrations cut from books."
The London Cigarette Card Co. has also been conducting auctions and fairs since the 1930s and continues to do so. Its monthly sales are open to bidders worldwide; two a year are held in London and one in the West Country while the rest are postal. Each auction contains more than 400 lots valued from a pound or two up to about £500 and free catalogues are available four weeks before the sale.
The LCCC stocks over 100 Series relating to birds and over 25 series about butterflies and moths dating from 1904 onwards. More than 190 of its series cover cncketers from the 1890s to the present day, over 100 relate to film stars of the 1920s-40s and over 300 to football, mainly issued from the 1960s to the present day. Reprints include 50 Aeroplanes from 1926, introduced by British American Tobacco (£8.50), and a new set from 1991 of large size 100 Yo MTV Raps Musicards issued by Pro Set (USA), costing £8.
As well as the larger companies, there are many very well informed and helpful smaller dealers who sell through the post or online. Lee Towersey, for example, started off as a picture framer, specialising in framing cigarette cards, but soon realised the potential of the Internet. "I started one of the first cigarette card websites and my business has grown as the Internet world has grown" he explains. "I now offer everything a card collector should need and run a card-finding service to help anyone find those elusive examples to complete their sets. I also sell software, albums and plastic pages as well as frames for any card size or format and offer valuations."
Bob Coalbran has been running The Card Mine full-time for three years now and also sells over the Internet. "My specialty area is European trade and cigarette cards" says Bob. "I cater for collectors of thematic material (both sport and non-sport subjects) as well as a wide range of quality and unusual Cartophilic issues from the mid 19th century up to the 1950s and 60s." His own interests focus on cards depicting wild and domestic animals, birds, butterflies, insects, fish and dogs especially Westies. But his varied stock includes rarer items such as Danish cigarette cards from Rich's and Danmark. About every two months, Bob also runs an Internet auction comprising 1,000 lots. One final specialist British dealer worth mentioning is UK Sports Cards, which carries reproduction and modern sports cards, some in cigarette format. Cigarette cards can also be found at fairs held throughout the country. Many events, which focus on postcards or stamps, include some cigarette cards but check with the organisers first before setting out.

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Last Updated January 9, 2012