Cigarette cards are trade cards issued by tobacco manufacturers to stiffen cigarette packaging and advertise cigarette brands.
In 1875, cards depicting actresses, baseball players, Indian chiefs, and boxers were issued by the U.S. based Allen and Ginter tobacco company. These are considered to be some of the first cigarette cards. Other tobacco companies such as Goodwin & Co soon followed suit.
In 1887 the UK company, WD & HO Wills, were one of the first companies to include advertising cards with their cigarettes, but it was John Player & Sons in 1893 that produced one of the first general interest sets ‘Castles and Abbeys’. Wills produced their first set ‘Ships and Sailors’, followed by ‘Cricketers' in 1896. In 1906, Thomas Ogden’s produced a set of football cards depicting footballers in their club colours, in one of the first full-colour sets.
Each set of cards typically consisted of 25 or 50 related subjects, but series of over 100 cards per issue are known. Popular themes were 'Beauties' which consisted of famous actresses, film stars and models. ‘Sporters’ which were mainly baseball stars of the U.S. and the rest of the world consisted of famous football and cricket stars. Nature, military heroes and uniforms, heraldry and city views were other themes.
Today, for example, sports and military historians study these cards for details on uniform design.
Some very early cigarette cards were printed on silk which was then attached to a paper backing. These were discontinued in order to save paper during World War II, and never fully reintroduced thereafter.
In 2007, a world record price was paid in America for a single card of $2,350,000.00 (£1,833,940.00). This card was sold later in the year for another world record price of $2,800,000.00 (£2,185,120.00). The card in question featured Honus Wagner, one of the great names in U.S. baseball at the turn of the 20th century. Wagner was a dedicated non-smoker and objected when America’s biggest tobacco corporation planned to picture him on a cigarette card without his permission. Threats of legal action prevented its release, but a few slipped out, and it was one of these that stunned the collecting world when it was auctioned.
Another notable and sought-after set of cards is the untitled series issued by Taddy and known by collectors as "Clowns and Circus Artistes". While not the rarest cards in existence they are still rather rare and command high prices whenever they come up for auction.
An original Taddy's Clowns and Circus Artistes Card
We have a very large collection from a single owner of cigarette cards which will be on sale on Sunday 11th June 2017. Please view our catalogue for more details.