Towards the end of the nineteenth century cigarettes were sold in paper packets, and in order to protect the contents a cardboard stiffener was often included. It was realised that, rather than being left plain, these cards could be used to carry promotional messages, thus the Cigarette Card was born. Around the turn of the century these cards began to feature colour illustrations and follow themes. Such sets of cards were designed to encourage brand loyalty and repeat sales as there was intense competition between the various cigarette brands. In 1917 a shortage of materials due to the First World War stopped the production of Cigarette Cards and they did not reappear until 1922. The collecting of these cards was very poular, especially during the 1920s and 1930s, with either universal albums, or ones specifically designed for a particular set, being available in which to mount them. In early 1940 production of cards ceased once again because of wartime restrictions, and the high cost of materials after the war meant that they were not to make a significant return. A few cards have been produced since, by Imperial Tobacco cigar brands for example, and similar cards were packed with Brooke Bond tea.
Most cards were printed with descriptive text on the back and many albums were designed with cut-outs so that this could still be read when the cards were mounted in them. A vast range of subjects was covered by the various series ranging from Sports Personalities, Film Stars, Aeroplanes, Cars and nature. Some sought to offer practical advice such as Safety First, Household Hints and Things to Make. We first became interested after seeing the set describing Railway Equipment, and since then a few with a railway theme have naturally been added to our collection, but the inter-war sets in general serve as a useful reminder of their times and so a few others have crept in too.
Railway themed cards
An Album of Railway Engines - W.D. & H.O.Wills
This album is designed for each card to be glued onto its relevant page with the wording which would have appeared on the back being repeated alongside. Whilst this set of 50 cards covers little of the Great Western Railway, it does contain much of general interest.
Railway Equipment - W.D. & H.O.Wills
Once again, this album if of general railway interest rather than illustrating exclusively GWR equipment. This 50 card set is mounted in a generic type of album which could be used for any of the Wills cigarette card sets as there is no specific wording on it. Instead of being stuck down, cards are held by their corners with the space behind being cut out to reveal the printing on the backs.
British Railways - Senior Service
This set of 48 cards was published in about 1938 and were of a slightly larger format than normal, being 3" x 2" in size. They were produced to a high standard being miniature gloss black and white photographs rather than drawings or colour images based on photographs. The descriptive text on their backs was revealed through cut outs in the pages of the album.
Local interest is supplied by card no. 12 which shows an L.M.S. three car diesel multiple unit which was first used on an experimental service between Oxford and Cambridge and later between St.Pancras and Nottingham. A second unit was planned but never built, and the prototype unit was withdrawn from service in 1939. This train was certainly advanced as it was reported to have air-operated doors controlled by the guard and had a speed of 80 miles per hour. Card no. 41 shows G.W.R. streamlined railcar No.3. The prototype unit, No.1, made its first run on 1 December 1933 between London Paddington and Reading and entered public service three days later operating between Slough, Windsor and Didcot. Units numbered 5 to 7, entered service in July 1935 and were used on services between London, Oxford and Hereford. The prototype was fitted with only one engine but all subsequent railcars had two. Thirty eight units were eventually built, to varying designs, and they all remained in service well into British Railways days with the last two not being withdrawn until 1962.
British Railway Locomotives - Turf cigarettes
We believe this set of 50 cards was issued in about 1952 and so falls after nationalisation and a bit later than the other cards in our collection. The set covers locomotives from the 'Big Four' as well as a few newer B.R. designs. Some of the ex-GWR locomotives are shown with GWR markings and so those images could date from 1947. These cards were unusual in that they were printed onto the slide out tray which held the cigarettes and had to be cut out. There was one 'card' in a pack of ten, and two printed in a pack of twenty cigarettes.
Non Railway themed cards
Safety First - W.D. & H.O.Wills
The Motor Car Act came into effect in Jan 1904 and this meant that, for the first time, car owners had to register a vehicle in order to have the right to drive it on public roads. The new document stated that a person was entitled to '...drive a motor car or motor cycle'. Also introduced at this time was the vehicle registration number and a speed limit of 20 mph! In 1930 the minimum driving age restriction of 17 was introduced, the speed limit was changed to a maximum of 30 m.p.h. in an urban area, and a driving test for the disabled was introduced, which also meant appointing the first Driving Test Examiners. The first edition of the Highway Code was not published until 1931 however. From June 1st 1935 every motorist that started driving on or after April 1st 1934 – had to pass a test. At first there were only 250 Test Examiners but there were no Driving Test Centres, so an Examiner would meet candidates at a pre-arranged location such as a train station or a car park. Driving tests were suspended during the Second World War, and didn't resume until 1946.
It is against this background that this set of fifty cards was published by W.D. & H.O.Wills. It contained a foreword by the then Minister of Transport Leslie Hore-Belisha, who was responsible for the 'Belisha Beacon' on pedestrian crossings, and the set gives a fascinating insight into both motoring and general road use during the period.
Handy Hints - W.D. & H.O.Wills
During the 1930s necessity meant that a great deal more emphasis was placed on 'Making Do and Mending'. This collection of 50 cards sought to offer practical advice and solutions to tasks which were common-place in most households at the time. Most of the hints given would seem alien to many readers today and included 'Ridding a carpet of moths', 'Distempering', 'Fire-lighting made easy', 'Laying a tiled hearth' and 'Securing loose knife handles'. Altogether a fascinating glimpse into a byegone age.
Aeroplanes (Civil) - John Player & Sons
During the 1930s efforts were made to popularise private aviation. This collection of fifty cards illustrates just some of the wide range of aircraft available to the private pilot, and some of those larger machines designed for the fledgling passenger carrying services. You can read about the airfields close to Culham elsewhere on this website.
Aircraft of the RAF - John Player & Sons
This set of 50 cards serves to illustrate the diversity of RAF aircraft during the mid 1930s and the speed at which technology and design were progressing spurred on by the ever increasing threat of war. There are outdated biplane bombers and fighters alongside newer designs, such as the Vickers 'Wellington', whose capabilities are noted as still being secret. Cards 47 and 48 illustrate two Miles designed trainers which were to be used extensively with large numbers being ordered. These aircraft were manufactured by Phillips & Powis who were based at Woodley near Reading and at a large wartime factory outside Swindon. The story of Woodley, Phillips & Powis and Miles aircraft is covered elsewhere on our website.
We have a couple of individual cards in our collection which are used to illustrate particular topics within the website.