1896 Godfrey Phillips General Interest Set is Weird and Unbelievably Scarce
Cards in this small 19th century tobacco set are varied nd nearly impossible to find
Many collectors hear the term UK tobacco issues and immediately think of the often plentiful sets of the 1930s. But the reality is that many international tobacco cards from the UK are quite rare.
This does not hold entirely true but, generally, the older the UK cards, the harder they are to find. 1920s sets are less frequently seen than the 1930s cards and 1910s sets are even tougher to find. And one set from the 19th century is impossibly difficult to track down — the 1896 Godfrey Phillips General Interest set.
You might have heard of that set before if you’ve read this site long enough. A while back, I referred to finding one of the soccer cards in it that I looked for with little success for a long time. While that card was an important one to me, it’s only one of 13 cards in a very unique set. The set is virtually evenly split between sports subjects and non-sports subjects.
The cards are quite aesthetically pleasing. There are color lithographic pictures on the fronts and a complex but nice looking advertisement on the back for Godrey Phillips, noting that the company has received medals for excellence for their tobacco products. Of particular interest is text of ‘1895’, which seemingly dates these cards. But almost every reference I have seen them indicates they are actually from 1896. I have not seen evidence for either year.
So what’s in it? An eclectic mix of nonsense, really.
Okay, so that’s a little unfair. Well, all but the eclectic part. There are three real prizes in the set. One is a card of famous cricketer W.G. Grace. Grace is maybe the earliest ‘great’ cricketer and, while his stuff is overlooked quite a bit here, he is quite popular internationally just because of the sport’s fame in other countries. He is joined by another cricketer, Archie MacLaren.
Next, you’ve got two soccer cards. One is a player named Billy Bassett. Bassett was an early soccer star playing for West Bromwich Albion and he later became the franchise’s director. He also played for England’s National team in the 19th century and he is joined in the set by another early soccer star, Charlie Athersmith.
The soccer cards are quite important. In addition to featuring two legitimate stars, the cards happen to be some of the earliest tobacco cards of real soccer players. There is at least one earlier one, this card of Duncan McLean, which appears to have been issued shortly before these. But the Bassett and Athersmith cards are certainly among the first to feature real players. In addition to that pair, there are a pair of jockeys, Mornington Cannon and T. Loates.
Cricket? Soccer? Horse Racing? That makes sense. There are lots of multi-sport sets from the UK that include those types of subjects. Plus, with two subjects in each sport, there’s even some consistency there. But the series doesn’t end there and that’s sort of where things get weird.
See, there are cards of three London sites that are featured — the Houses of Parliament, The Tower Bridge, and Trafalgar Square. Then there are three pictures of unidentified women. These could be famous actresses or, more likely, entirely random subjects as no names are given. Including pictures of random, unnamed women on early cigarette cards was quite common.
The most intriguing subject, perhaps, is for a man called D. Jim. I have seen his card referenced as both D. Jim and Dr. Jim as there is what appears to be an ‘r’ as a superscript on his card. He is wearing a large hat and a jacket but no other information is given and I am uncertain of his identification.
Jim, it should be pointed out, does not look quite like a doctor. He looks more of a tobacco farmer, if I’m being honest, which would have been appropriate. And before you mention that would be an odd subject for a trading card, consider there are many cards of women rolling cigarettes and even one well known card of a tobacco grower dressed as Uncle Sam. I don’t have any idea if this chap is a tobacco grower — all I’m saying is that we’ve seen those sort of oddball subjects in other sets.
One other thing of note — I am not even certain these cards are all from the same set. Some of the cards have the Godfrey Phillips name at the top in a block style. Others, like Jim’s card, have it in a cursive style. Even all of the types of subjects vary in the way the Godfrey Phillips name is presented. Two of the cards of women have the cursive style while the third is in block style. But the thin red border found on both types as well as the same back advertisement have led collectors to believe this is all one set.
Also of note is that the cards are incredibly rare. PSA and SGC have graded only a handful in the entire set. Prices fluctuate quite wildly because so few people are familiar with the set but bidding wars can emerge for the sports subjects, which sell for more. The cards of the London sites are probably the least expensive, selling in the $10-$20 usually on the off chance that you find them for sale. You just hardly ever see these anywhere, which is why I nearly broke my neck at the opportunity to buy one of the soccer cards in great condition — there are so very few of them.
So in summary, we’ve got some cricket, horse racing, a few of the earliest soccer tobacco cards, some unnamed women, a few London sites, and some guy named Jim. Just your run of the mill tobacco card set from the 19th century.
Here’s a full checklist of the set. Cards are not numbered — instead, they are presented here in alphabetical order.
- Charlie Athersmith (Soccer)
- Billy Bassett (Soccer)
- Mornington Cannon (Horse Racing)
- D. Jim / Dr. Jim
- W.G. Grace (Cricket)
- Houses of Parliament
- T. Loates (Horse Racing)
- Archie MacLaren (Cricket)
- Tower Bridge
- Trafalgar Square
- Unknown Woman
- Unknown Woman
- Unknown Woman