In 1871 the American company of Allen and Ginter began inserting pieces of card to protect the cigarettes from being damaged. It was not long before tobacco companies had the idea of printing advertisements on these cards, or "stiffeners" as they were called in the trade. In about 1876 companies began producing a series of cards that the smoker could collect. It was believed that this would encourage the smoker to continue using that particular brand.
The first British company to issue cigarette cards was W.D. & H.O. Wills. The first card appeared in 1887 and were at first used to advertise its products. Ogdens, a company based in Liverpool, introduced the first series of cigarette cards in 1894. This series of photographic cards became known as "Guinea Golds".
As Gordon Howsden points out in his book, Collecting Cigarette and Trade Cards: "At a time when the average family could not afford books, and with the technique of reproducing photographs in newspapers still some years away, these cards could inform and amuse, and bring a little bit of colour into what were all too often very drab lives."
Arnold Bennett once remarked that "some boys will grow up with cigarette cards as their sole education". Another writer, Clifford Hough, pointed out that cigarette cards were dubbed "The Working Man's Encyclopedia" because "they brought pictures of famous faces and fascinating places to the attention" of the masses. Hough adds that on "the reverse side the captions contained many interesting facts and pieces of information that often sunk into a boy's mind to a greater extent than any dull textbook from schooldays."
In 1896 the first set with a sporting theme appeared. This was a series by W.D. & H.O. Wills of 50 cricketers.
The tobacco companies discovered that these sporting cards were a great way to obtain brand loyalty. In 1896 the first football set appeared. Footballers & Club Colours was published by Marcus & Company, a small firm in Manchester. These cards are extremely rare and individual cards are valued at £170. This is true of all the early football sets that were issued at this time: Footballers & Club Colours (Kinner, 1898); Footballers (J. F. Bell, 1902); Footballers (F. J. Smith, 1902) and Footballers (Percy E. Cadle, 1904). The cost of individual cards of these sets vary from £40 to £160.
In 1902 W.D. & H.O. Wills published a set of 66 football cards. This included George Clawley (Tottenham Hotspur), Matt Kingsley (Newcastle United), George Hedley (Sheffield United), Jimmy Crabtree (Aston Villa), Ernest Needham (Sheffield United) and Fred Spiksley (Sheffield Wednesday). Interestingly, most of the players were photographed in suits.
In 1905 Singleton & Cole of Shrewsbury published a black and white series of photographs called "Footballers". These now sell for £120 a card but the series was reprinted in 2001 and can now be obtained for a reasonable price from dealers. The series included Billy Meredith, John Doig, William Balmer and Fred Blackburn.
In 1906 Ogdens produced an attractive set of Football Club Colours. These cards showed the club's star player in his full kit. This was one of the first sets of cards in full colour. The set featured Everton, Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanders, Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers, Middlesbrough, Tottenham Hotspur, Sheffield United and Arsenal.
The following year, Cohen Weenen published a similar series entitled Football Club Captains. This included captains in Division 1, Division 2 and the Southern League. These are valued at £13 each card. However, the reprinted set (1998) can be purchased for around £10.
One of the most prolific producers of football cards was Taddy & Company. In 1907 the company issued a set of 595 cards entitled "Prominent Footballers". The oval shaped images were in black and white. Further sets were followed in 1908 (403) and 1913 (406).
Pinnace, a company based at 112, Commercial St, produced cards for Godfrey Phillips. In 1920 the company issued a series of 1,100 football cards. This was followed by 2,462 in 1922 and 940 in 1923.
The collecting of football cigarette cards was extremely popular in the 1920s. In 1925 Lacey's produced a series of 50 black and white photographs. The series included Charlie Buchan, Jack Leslie, Harry Bedford and Vic Watson.
After a period of black and white cards, Ogdens returned to using full colour for their "Captains of Association Football Clubs and Colours" set in 1926. The series includes paintings of Donald McKinlay (Liverpool), Henry Healless (Blackburn Rovers), Charlie Parker (Sunderland), Frank Barson (Manchester United), William Caddick (Wolves), Frank Moss (Aston Villa), Fred Reed (West Bromwich Albion), Clem Stephenson (Huddersfield Town), Thomas Hamilton (Preston North End) and George Kay (West Ham United). They are currently valued at £3.00 a card and £130 a set.
They were followed by Gallaher who produced a set of 50 Famous Footballers later this year. These cards were produced in large numbers and individual cards can be obtained from dealers for around £2.20.
A series of caricatures by "Rip" (R. P. Hill) were published by John Player and Sons in August, 1926. Another series, this time illustrated by "Mac" (Douglas Machin) appeared in September, 1927 and featured players like Jimmy Ruffell and Dixie Dean. Sets of these can be obtained from dealers for around £65.
In October 1928 John Player and Sons produced a series of 50 illustrated action cards. This was followed by another 25 in February, 1929. The first series included David Jack, Sam Cowan, Tom McDonald and Stanley Earle.The cards were only available for a limited period and so collectors would often find themselves with only a part set. They therefore needed a source from which to obtain the missing numbers. In 1927 the London Cigarette Card Company was formed to acquire, store and sell individual cards or complete sets.
In 1928 Gallaher published Footballers in Action. These were painted scenes from football matches. These cards are in short supply and sets cost in the region of £130.
In September, 1934, John Player and Sons produced a series entitled Hints on Association Football. It included advice on defensive and attacking throw-ins, back passes, free kicks, triangular wing movement, bringing the ball down, heading, passing, corner-kicks, trapping the ball, etc.
In the 1930s several companies produced painted portraits of football players. In 1931 Lambert & Butler, produced a series of painted portraits that included West Ham's star centre-forward, Vic Watson. This was followed by Carreras in 1934 who produced a series entitled "Famous Footballers". The set included Thomas Hetherington, Jack Bruton, Dixie Dean, Robert Kelly, Ted Critchley, Ernie Hine, Jock McDougall and Jim Barrett. Original sets can be obtained for about £70 but a reprinted set in 1997 can be purchased for about £13.50.
Major companies had their own studios devoted entirely to the production of cigarette cards in the 1930s. The trade was given a further boast by the decision of the London Cigarette Card Company in 1933 to establish a magazine for collectors, Cigarette Card News. A series of caricatures by "Mac" (Douglas Machin) were published by Ogdens in 1935. A set of these cards are currently valued by the Cigarette Card Catalogue (2007) at £130. The series included Dai Richards, Alex Stevenson, Dai Richards, Charlie Phillips, David Martin, Albert Geldard, Henry Hibbs, Bob Gurney, George Male, Ray Westwood, Jackie Bray, Eric Brook, Cliff Britton, Wilf Copping, and Eddie Hapgood.
Football cards continued to be popular and it was not uncommon for print-runs in the millions. To encourage the collecting of a particular series, the tobacco companies produced special albums that could be purchased from local tobacconists. The most impressive cards produced during the 1930s included painted portraits of football stars. These looked so realistic that they appeared to be painted photographs. The first company to use this technique was Ardath. Its 1934 series was entitled Famous Footballers and included portraits of Raich Carter, Jimmy McGrory, Ray Westwood, Hughie Gallacher, Jimmy Hampson, Robert Kelly, Eric Brook, Sammy Crooks, Stanley Matthews, Cliff Bastin, Eddie Hapgood, Sam Cowan, Billy Barraclough, James Allen, Jack Bruton, Alex James, Gordon Hodgson and Reg Hollingsworth.
Carreras also published a set of 48 cards entitled Popular Footballers in 1936. These painted portraits included Jimmy Hampson, William McKay, Bryn Jones, Billy Wrigglesworth, Ted Hancock, Percy Grosvenor, John Thompson and Arnold Whiteside. The scale of collecting cards is shown by the fact that in 1936 W.D. & H.O. Wills printed 600 million cards for their series on Railway Engines.
W.D. & H.O. Wills produced a series of these cards called Association Footballers in 1935 that contained impressive portraits of Eric Brook, Stanley Matthews, Raich Carter, Reg Hollingsworth, Eddie Hapgood, Ted Drake, Jimmy Connor, Bob Pryde, Willie Hall, Ray Westwood, Jimmy Hampson, John Morton and George Mutch. Thousands of these sets were collected and as a result they can be obtained from dealers for around £60. However, they can be purchased via Ebay for about half this price.
In 1935 Ogdens produced a new series of Club Captains. This included portraits of Daniel Blair, Jack Bruton, Sam Cowan, Dai Richards, Dixie Dean, Tom Cooper and William Tremelling. A set of these cards are currently valued by the Cigarette Card Catalogue (2007) at £110.
Godfrey Phillips was also active in this market and produced some very attractive sets in the 1930s. Soccer Stars in 1936 included Ted Drake, Charlie Phillips, Alf Young, Bob Gurney, Jimmy Connor, Hughie Gallacher, Cliff Bastin, Ray Westwood, Raich Carter, Sammy Crooks, George Camsell, James Marshall, Dixie Dean and Wally Boyes. Famous Footballers also appeared in 1936 and the following year saw the publication of International Caps.
In 1938 Churchman moved away from colour portraits by producing a set of action shots in black and white. The first series featured Stan Cullis, Peter Doherty, Ted Drake, Harry Goslin, Stanley Matthews, Frank O'Donnell, George Mutch, Tommy Lawton, Vic Woodley, George Roughton, Bob Iverson, Len Goulden and John Morton.
Churchman produced a second series in 1939. This series included Stan Foxall, Willie Fagan, Beaumont Asquith, Stanley Matthews, Frank Broome, Vic Woodley, Tommy Lawton, Stan Cullis and Raich Carter. The first series can be obtained for only £35. However, the second series was not produced in such large numbers and you will probably have to pay twice as much for that set.
In 1939 W.D. & H.O. Wills produced another series of Association Footballers. The set included impressive portraits of Peter Doherty, Bert Sproston, Ray Westwood, Bob Pryde, James Allen, Andrew Beattie, Edwin Bowden, Bryn Jones, George Vose, Tom Galley, Tommy Lawton, Raich Carter, Fred Worrall, Ephraim Dodds, Frank Broome, Len Goulden and Stan Cullis.
The outbreak of the Second World War caused a severe shortage of paper and tobacco companies were forced to bring an end to the production of cigarette cards. This shortage remained after the war and it was too expensive to provide free cards in packets of cigarettes. In 1947 Carreras printed pictures of on the sliding part of the cigarette carton for collectors to cut out. The following year they issued a set of 50 footballers. These cards are currently valued at £4 each.