Cigarette Cards Were a Marketing Tool

Times Staff Writer

Question: I collect English cigarette cards. Are there any clubs or stores in the U.S. that specialize in them? They’re very hard to locate.--S.E.

Answer: Such establishments are few and far between in this country, according to H. A. (Tony) Hyman, who has written extensively on collectibles and who, for three decades, has been collecting cigar boxes and researching the industries that produced them.

Hyman did come up with one source, however--a British firm that deals in the type of cards you collect. It is the London Cigarette Card Co. Ltd., Sutton Road, Somerton, Somerset TA11 6QP, Great Britain.

Hyman said cigarette cards actually “were the brainstorm of an American, James Buchanan Duke,” who, along with his brother, Benjamin Newton Duke, founded the American Tobacco Co.


Issued in the mid-1880s as a marketing tool, cigarette cards soon caught on in the United States and abroad. The first American cards, he said, were black-and-white pictures of actresses, “sort of the pre-pinups of their day.”

Then, he said, cigarette companies began featuring baseball players before they became a popular marketing tool with bubble gum companies.

As many as 50 cigarette cards made up a complete set, which could feature anything from celebrities to animals to outdoor scenes. Usually, they were distributed one card to a cigarette pack.

As for British cigarette firms, Hyman said English companies also were eclectic in their cigarette-card selections, printing everything from animals to coats of arms to theatrical scenes. Almost immediately, the cards became immensely popular among collectors abroad.


American firms stopped production of cigarette cards about the time of World War I. But the cards remained in demand in Great Britain where cigarette companies kept up production through the 1960s, Hyman said.

About 150 lots of cigarette cards will be put up for bid in a tobacco-and-smoking collectibles mail-and-telephone auction Hyman is packaging. Bidding deadline will be Feb. 3.

About 5,000 items in 1,300 lots will be auctioned, he said, mostly from the estate of a deceased Monterey collector. Included will be tobacco tins, pipes, cigar boxes and labels, books, magazines and other items. He placed the collection’s value at about $100,000.

Hyman’s illustrated 176-page auction catalogue, which is still in production, is indexed and will sell for $29.95, plus $6 for shipping. (Californians have to add $1.95 for sales tax.)

Hyman’s address: P.O. Box 699, Claremont, Calif. 91711; or telephone (714) 621-5952.


N.C. of Lawndale collects bubble gum machine charms, which date from about 1950 through 1958. “I have hundreds of them,” she writes, and wants to know, presumably from other collectors or dealers, what they’re worth.

Another information source for sheet music collectors is the Sheet Music Exchange, which produces a publication for $15 a year (third class mail) or $24 (first class). The address: P.O. Box 69, Quicksburg, Va. 22847.