A Dive Into the Cigarette Card News of the 1930s
Let’s take a look back at one of the earliest sports card collecting publications
While there were many cards in the pre-war era, frankly, publications on the hobby were mostly pretty scarce. There are a variety of reasons for that but one, I imagine, was that it couldn’t be known how much interest would be generated. But one company decided to try and find out in the 1930s.
The London Cigarette Card Company was founded in 1927 and is one of the foremost card collecting entities in the world. The company distributions publications, sells cards, sells supplies, and is sort of a catch all for collectors of UK cigarette/tobacco cards. In 1933, the company tested the waters on a publication for collectors called the Cigarette Card News. It focused on, you guessed it, cigarette cards, and even outside of the boundaries of the UK. Now known as the Card Collectors News, the publication is still in existence today. I don’t know if it is the very first one, but I have not yet seen a regular collector publication of merit that was produced earlier.
That the publication launched in the 1930s is not a surprise, of course. While there are plenty of earlier tobacco cards in the UK, the 1930s was really the heyday for such issues with countless sets being produced. Cigarette cards in the U.S. were basically non-existent at that point. But millions of cigarette cards were being churned out internationally in that decade.
I recently stumbled upon the first volume of the publication (12 issues) online, which has been provided on a collector website. And, well, it was fascinating. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
So, about the publication — what was in it during the first year of existence? Let’s take a look.
Much of the publication was about, duh, reviewing cards. This was really the bread and butter and what most collectors probably cared the most about. These articles taking a look into cigarette card sets were generally grouped in two categories.
Longer articles were written on older sets that already existed. While I liked reading about several sets, the one that had most of my interest was a two-part article on the c. 1900-02 Ogden’s Tabs General Interest and Guinea Gold sets.
The General Interest set produced around the turn of the century, as I’ve written before, is quite spectacular. An article in the January and February 1934 publications talked about those sets and really included some good information that is hard to come by today just because there’s not much attention paid to those sets. Several articles on other sets exist in the same manner.
Then, there were shorter ‘articles’ on newer releases. These were really quick hitters (only a few sentences per set) that mentioned new sets that had just been released or were set to come out. Typically one article included 5-8 of these types of set mentions. While the mentions were short, these were certainly helpful to collectors in terms of knowing what cards to watch for.
One of the segments of the publication I enjoyed was a regular column that talked about error cards and variations.
This is another thing that was of interest to me. Many of the sets are rare or, perhaps more accurately, not discussed here in America much (remember, this is a UK publication) so it’s hard to find information on errors in particular sets. But since I collect these types of cards in addition to the American cards, I found it interesting.
It was, frankly, kind of cool to read about errors and variations I was not aware of — even those in sets I had not heard of. One that I did know about was surrounding the cards of B.O. Male in a footballers set. I actually wrote about this card after noticing the variation sort of out of the blue two years ago. As you can see here, he’s wearing dark shorts on one card and lighter ones on another.
It was kind of cool to know that someone discovered the error nearly 100 years ago just like I did only recently.
A Poorly-Executed Q&A
One regular feature in the publications was a question and answer segment.
It was, of course, exactly as it sounds. Collectors would mail in questions and then have them answered by one of the collectors helping to produce the publication. In the early days of it, those questions were answered by a collector known as C.L.B.
The column was called, ‘The Enquiry Corner,’ and C.L.B. would answer questions and also take input from other collectors that wanted to provide any.
Unfortunately, this column was also one of the more frustrating ones to read. While answers were published, the questions, for whatever reason, were not. That means they were not too helpful to anyone other than the person submitting the question.
Sometimes you could determine the question. For example, in a later issue after the aforementioned B.O. Male variation was discussed, an answer states that card No. 24 originally showed light shorts and was corrected to blue. B.O. Male’s card is not mentioned specifically, but it is easy to determine that was the card asked about as his card focused on the shorts color and was also No. 24.
Still, it was just kind of a dumb way to do a Q&A segment, to be honest.
What does any publication need to stay afloat? Revenue, of course. And in addition to subscription fees, advertising is critical, obviously.
In the first year, the publication was just getting started. But they did manage to secure some advertisements. Other than the LCCC’s own advertising, the most substantial advertiser in the early days of the publication was for Evans Bros., Ltd., a London-based firm that sold projectors.
Cigarette cards were collected for all sorts of reasons but one of the primary reasons people were into them was for educational purposes. There were educational-related sets that were constantly produced. While the majority of those cards were non-sports issues, instructional sets, like the 1936 National Chicle Rabbit Maranville How To series or the 1923 Sarony Tennis Strokes set did teach collectors how to play sports.
Cigarette cards were used by teachers in classrooms because they had wonderful pictures and, in many cases, detailed descriptions on the back. But because of their small size, using them in class settings was sometimes difficult. Evans Bros. marketed a projector with the idea that they could be used to enlarge the cards (to a five-foot picture) and allow them to be shown to a class on a screen or wall.
Evans sold the projectors with the idea that blowing up these cigarette cards was much more affordable than using more expensive lantern slides as demonstration pieces.
A Woman’s Touch
Card collecting, as it has been more for more than a century, has been dominated by men. But one of the great things about the early publication is that it had a female perspective.
Lady Margaret Macrae was one of the handful of collectors that got the publication up and running. She was heralded in the first issue as, ‘among that small band, to be counted almost on the fingers of one hand, who put serious card collecting on the map.’ Her addition, to be sure, was not a token one and the publication went on to mention that she possessed ‘one of the finest collections in existence.’
In her first article, Macrae discussed how she got into card collecting. Essentially, she had collected all sorts of things previously such as stamps, dried flowers, and geological specimens, but found nothing as fulfilling as cards, even though stamp collecting was certainly more lucrative.
Macrae, of course, ‘graduated’ from merely providing overviews and would talk more in detail about specific subjects, such as being bored with the large number of sets devoted to actors and actresses. Or how she enjoyed sets that focused on historical events and figures.
A while back, I wrote an article explaining that one of the reasons cigarette cards were often frowned upon was because children pestering adults for them had become a nuisance. But Macrae addressed this complaint and essentially concluded that the cards had too great an educational value to be disregarded.
Finally, Macrae was also instrumental in the beginnings of a Standard Catalogue publication that cataloged sets, similar to what Jefferson Burdick later did with the American Card Catalog.
Macrae’s inclusion was not only important because of her knowledge of cards and collecting but also because it gave female collectors the feeling that there were others like them out there, no matter how small the numbers.
A vast number of collecting resources have come and gone since then. But the Cigarette Card News was one of the groundbreaking publications in the history of the hobby and one that helped spread the idea of collecting early trading cards.