Roses – cigarette cards

Cigarette cards seem to be a strange item to collect when you are a lover of roses but the sets illustrating roses that I have are quite beautiful as each card depicts a painting of a rose and is accompanied on the reverse by a description of the featured rose. As some are over a century old they tell me the roses that were popular at the beginning of the C20th in a way that only a range of catalogues from that time could do and there aren’t many of those about.

No. 3 from the 1926 set.

Cigarette cards have been produced illustrating a huge range of subjects but Wills seem to be the only company in Britain that produced sets devoted solely to roses. Their first rose cards appeared in cigarette packets in 1912. A set of fifty could be collected by the serious smoker. This series was closely followed by a second 50 in 1913 and as the numbers followed on up to 100 the two sets together make one complete set.

Will's Cigarettes Rose Card
No1. in the 1912 set.

A further set of fifty followed in 1926 with the majority of the cards featuring equally beautiful but mostly different roses. A final set of 40 larger cards appeared in 1936. These are still beautiful but to me do not have the charm of the previous sets being more like photographs in appearance and with quite dark backgrounds in many cases.

Wills Cigarette Card - Dame Edith Helen
No. 8 in the 1936 set.

Kensitas, in the 1930s, produced a set of 60 woven silk Flower cards which are really collectable. These came in small, medium and postcard size with each card enclosed in a protective folder with a detailed description. A small card came in a packet of ten, a medium one in a packet of twenty and to get a postcard size you needed to buy a tin of fifty. For the bulk buyer a tin of one hundred would reveal two postcard size silk cards. This set includes several roses: a Tea rose, a red rose, a Moss rose and a Rambler rose. These are still quite easy to come by although they, like everything else that becomes more rare, are rising in price. A silk postcard size will cost you now as much or more than fifty cigarettes.

Kensitas silk card
A Kensitas silk card of a red rose from the 1930s.

Trade cards, of which these rose cards by Wills and Kensitas are examples, began in 1875 with an American tobacco company, Allen and Ginter producing cards of Baseball Players, Indian Chiefs and Boxers. In the UK, in 1887, W.D. and H.O.Wills were one of the first companies to include advertising cards with their cigarettes. In 1893 John Player and Sons produced one of the first general interest sets which portrayed Castles and Abbeys. Other companies soon followed suit with Wills issuing their first interest set of Ships and sailors, closely followed by Cricketers in 1896. The first full colour set was produced by Ogdens depicting footballers in their club colours! To make collection easier a small booklet in which to mount the cards was available for purchase.

Cigarette Card Albums
Albums were printed to make card collecting easier.

Throughout the first part of the C20th, until the outbreak of World War 2 the majority of the many tobacco companies produced these cards on a huge range of topics. Many are used today to study aspects of our social history such as dress, uniforms etc. The custom of issuing cards in cigarette packets was curtailed during the war to save paper. The production was never restarted although today reproduction sets can be bought.

Cigarette card albums
The cards can look good in frames.

These old Trade Cards are collected by many people today and there are annual catalogues issued and regular auctions take place devoted solely to them. Early in 2007 a record price of 2,800,000 dollars was paid for a card depicting Honus Wagner, one of the great names in American baseball. Apparently he was a dedicated non-smoker who objected to being portrayed on a cigarette card. Legal action prevented its release but before action could be taken a few had been issued.

Cigarette cards in wallets
I keep most of my complete sets in plastic wallets to keep them clean.

The largest cigarette card collection on record is that of Edward Wharton-Tigar, which was bequeathed to the British Museum on his death in 1995. Although I have quite a collection of these cards, largely flowers, art and literature, which I have picked up at various places my focus is on roses!

2 thoughts on “Roses – cigarette cards”

    1. Gregg as yet I haven’t looked into the illustrators of these cards but it is certainly a subject of interest. Where to start. The only time I contacted The Imperial Tobacco Company for reasons of copyright about the cards they claimed to know nothing about them! Could try again of course.

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