What’s a Cigarette Card?

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Cigarette paper was originally used to protect cigarettes, but later manufacturers printed promotional messages on them. Collectible sets became popular in the 1890s, but production slowed after WWII. Collectors now hunt down old cards and pay large sums to complete sets. Murray’s Guide is a popular reference for collectors. Edward Wharton Tiger was a famous collector who left over one million cards to the British Museum. Cigarette cards are collected like baseball cards, but usually came with cigarette packs.

A cigarette paper is a small piece of paper originally designed to protect cigarettes that came in paper packages. Later the manufacturers came up with the idea of ​​printing promotional messages on the cards. Eventually they produced ranges of designs that allow collectors to try and put together a complete set.
The first cigarette card with a promotional message was launched by the American firm Allen & Ginter in 1886. The idea soon crossed the Atlantic to Great Britain two years later. The collectible set idea followed in the 1890s and was popular for most of the next 50 years. Cigarette paper became less popular after World War II when production was slowed down or even banned to save resources. The few sets produced during both World Wars are now highly prized by collectors.

The hobby of collecting cigarette cards is known as stationery. The hob has changed over the years as new card sets are much rarer today than in years gone by. Instead of buying cigarettes to get new cards, collectors are more likely to hunt down old cards. As these are rarer, collectors will pay large sums, particularly to complete a series.

The most popular reference material for cigarette card collectors is Murray’s Guide to Cigarette and Other Trade Cards, which lists card sets and details such as size, number, and value, for both the entire set and individual cards. Some of the most valuable cards are those that contain an error and have been replaced since release. It is commonly believed that some manufacturers released the different cards in a set in different quantities so that buyers would keep buying cigarettes to try and get the rarer cards. For this reason a few single cards in a set can be much more expensive among dealers today.

The most famous cigarette card collector in history was a man named Edward Wharton Tiger. When he died in 1995, he left a collection of over one million papers to the British Museum. This included an extremely rare card featuring baseball player Honus Wagner which forced the makers to withdraw the card from circulation as he was against smoking.

Cigarette cards are collected in the same way as baseball cards, the main difference being that baseball cards are usually sold separately or with a piece of gum, while cigarette cards usually came with cigarette packs. Other similar promotional techniques in some countries include cards in teabag packets, while in Europe children are more likely to collect stickers.

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