by Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)
Amongst the records recently added to our online catalogue were groups of cigarette cards that are part of the Wilkinson Collection. These had previously been kept as part of the Secondary Collection however, after doing a bit more research it was decided that they would be a welcome addition to the catalogue. Whilst the quality of the images on these cards is, inevitably, not always the best, they are often very interesting, giving a flavour of life in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
Cigarette cards are trading cards introduced by tobacco companies to stiffen cigarette packaging as well as to advertise different brands of tobacco. On one side of the cards would be a picture, ranging from the famous actors or sports personalities of the day, through to city views and landscapes. Cards were normally produced in sets of 25 or 50 for customers to collect and you could also buy albums to put the cards in. These cost just a shilling, which would have been viable at least for the middle classes, and possibly for some of the working class as well.
It may surprise some readers to learn that quite a few of the sets released had postal themes. These cards showed a range of subjects relating to the postal service both in Britain and across the British Empire, including historical events or figures, stamps from different countries, as well as technological advances in delivering the mail. This range can be shown in the following cards from our collection.
Number 31 of a series of 50 Wills cigarette cards, entitled ‘English Military Post Office (Foreign Service)’ (2010-0383/31)
The first card shows a Foreign Service Post Office with men dressed in khaki military uniform opening mail bags in front of their tents. This is probably a depiction of a Post Office from either the Boer or First World War. On the back of each card there is always some information about the subject depicted and I think this one speaks for itself:
No one realizes the benefit and blessing of Post Office activity and resource more than the soldier and his relatives in war time. The Post Office enables him to keep in touch with the old home…the postal officials share the hardships, inconveniences and dangers of the campaign.
Number 16 of the ‘Romance of the Royal Mail’ series entitled ‘An Early Mail Van’ (2010-0384/16)
The second card I’ve chosen is part of the ‘Romance of the Royal Mail’ series produced jointly by Royal Mail and W.H. & J. Woods Ltd which shows an early motorised mail van. The Post Office was among the first of the public services to take advantage of motor transport. In 1898 motor vans were tried on the London to Brighton services and by 1911 had superseded horse vehicles on all the Parcel Coach Services between London and provincial towns. They also enabled longer distances to be covered.
These are just two from almost 190 cigarette cards in the Wilkinson Collection so please do take a look at some of our others on the online catalogue – pictures to be uploaded soon!