The 1930s John Cotton Golf Strokes Sets may be the Biggest Small Sets in the World
While these sets have a total of 250 cards, it doesn’t feel like it
The John Cotton Golf Strokes sets are among many international tobacco golf issues produced in the 1930s. They were produced for John Cotton branded tobacco with the company based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Technically, there are five different sets, even though many collectors tend to lump them as one big one. The first set was produced in 1936 and a new one was printed every year through 1939, with the exception of two in that final year.
There are a whopping 250 cards in the series making it rather large. The interesting thing, however, is that that’s a rather deceptive number based on what collectors actually ‘got’.
See, each set features 50 cards with pictures on the fronts and back. Like many sets that were switching towards a more instructional type of card, this one showed collectors how to hit certain golf shots. These types of sets were really popular in the UK with many demonstrating golf, tennis, or other sports. But the catch here is that there aren’t a total of 250 different golf shots. Or even 25, for that matter.
Each of the five sets included 50 cards but featured only two total golf shots (one on the front and one on the back). To solve the problem of trying to illustrate a shot on a single piece of cardboard, each shot shows a different ‘frame’ of a golf swing so that if you look at them all together, you can see the full shot. Backs of the cards had a corresponding image for a different stroke, so what we’ve got here is 500 different pictures shown front/back on 250 different cards for a total of ten different golf strokes (each stroke included 50 pictures/cards).
Obviously, with 50 different pictures for a single shot, many of the cards look pretty similar. Thank God the cards are numbered because I don’t know how you would keep track of them otherwise. One side of a card has a letter and then a corresponding number. So, since there are 50 cards in each set, each letter will have a number up to 50 (i.e. Set A will have Card A1, Card A2, Card A3, and so on, through A50).
To show the madness of this confusing set, here are two pictures of English golfer Archie Compston, who is demonstrating how to hit a 1 iron. The 1 iron is a club similar to a driver that isn’t used by, well, hardly anybody today. But while these are two different cards, you can see just how close they are in appearance. Believe it or not, these are indeed two different cards. Telling, say, Card No. 1 from Card No. 25 would be fairly easy. But consecutive cards such as these A43 and A44 cards look annoyingly similar.
Unfortunately, if you were a golfer looking for tips, you were basically fresh out of luck with this set, too. The cards didn’t offer tips, only stating that 50 cards were needed for a complete shot and that they were found in packages of John Cotton tobacco and cigarettes. Golfers could only view the shot on the cards, providing they collected all of them, of course.
These cards must not have been a big hit because it is difficult finding them today, leading us to believe they were printed in smaller quantities than other sets. While some 1930s UK issues are plentiful, this one certainly is not. You generally will only see a few on eBay at any given time and good luck trying to find complete sets. You can occasionally find a complete set but they are pretty tough. That’s particularly true of the later series’, which appear to have been printed in even smaller quantities.
Tough sets and not ones that are particularly interesting, either. While there are technically 250 cards in the series, with only ten different golf shots demonstrated, it must have been tough for collectors to get excited about these cards since so many looked so similar.