A brief history of cigarette cards and some examples with a Rugby theme below.

How did Cigarette cards come about? 

Most of the early cigarette packets were made of paper and were therefore quite soft. To provide protection to the cigarettes a piece of cardboard was inserted into the packets to act as a 'stiffener'. It was then only a matter of time before the tobacco companies started to print advertising and pictures on these 'stiffeners', the main reason being to entice smokers to continue to buy their product. This occurred in America in the mid 1880's and in the UK a couple of years later.

Most of the very early cards contained pictures on the fronts only, and had blank backs. Later on the backs were printed with the issuing company's name or logo or a description of the picture that was shown on the front. Most of the early cards showed well-known personalities or issues that were current at that time. These included Boer War personalities, weapons, transport, actresses, racehorses, and sportsmen.

It wasn't until after 1900 when the issuing of cigarette cards really took off, with several hundred firms issuing thousands of different sets. Unfortunately with the on-set of the Great War in 1914 and the restrictions on raw materials the issue of cigarette cards almost came to a stand-still. It wasn't until the early 1920's that cigarette cards began again to be issued in earnest. Once again thousands of sets were being issued with themes such as butterflies, birds, motorcars, proverbs, animals, film stars and of course the usual sporting favourites like football, cricket and the odd rugby card set.

Unfortunately with the arrival of the Second World War in 1939 the issuing of cigarette cards practically came to an end. In fact they were officially banned by the wartime government in the United Kingdom as "a waste of vital raw materials". Sadly the issuing of cigarette cards never really recovered after this.