Used Book Review: The Story of Cigarette Cards by Martin Murray

The Story of Cigarette Cards by Martin MurrayIt's an intimidating purchase because it's only 126 pages and you know it's going to be packed with photos. And it is. The photos are quite helpful in a book of this type, but the worry at the time of purchase is that you're buying a picture book without any real helpful info inside. That is certainly not the case with The Story of Cigarette Cards by Martin Murray.

As this book is now 25 years old as I type out this review and as the topic is an extremely specialized one, there's not a lot of information about The Story of Cigarette Cards to be found on the web. No reviews on; no preview on Google Books. And so this page is designed to take away any worries of wasting your hard-earned money on a wing-and-a-prayer purchase. It's written by an American (me) about a book published out of Great Britain.

The short version is this: Buy it now. The longer version follows.

Published out of London in 1987 by Murray's own Murray Cards (International) Ltd. every bit of text in The Story of Cigarette Cards remains relevant today. This is not a book about collectors or collecting, it is a book about the cards. When I say about the cards I don't mean a price guide or even a catalog describing the sizes and printing processes of the various cards. It is about the history of the cards: who produced them, why, when and where.

Murray's Introduction to The Story of Cigarette Cards explains to the uninitiated the scope of the topic. After explaining that the the term encompassing the hobby, Cartophily, means "simply a love of cards," he goes on to tell us just what falls under that umbrella:

"Let us then define a cartophilic item as something that is 'two dimensional, and given away to advertise or to promote sales.'"

Now here's where it gets a little tricky:

"By not mentioning the word card one can include items woven on silk, or printed on aluminum, satin or plastic, while the two dimensional qualification eliminates items such as toys and knitting needles, often given with cereals and magazines. The advertising element is essential, since it eschews the bulk of post cards and playing cards, which were produced to be sold, although either of these may be found bearing advertising and having been given away, so that they fall within our scope."

Finally, and key to my own interpretation, Murray concludes this paragraph: "But cartophily is a very tolerant hobby, and for every rule or definition it is quite easy to find exceptions" (5).

That, essentially the second paragraph of the book found on page 5, is all it took to hook me into the fascinating survey which then follows.

Murray then discusses the further types of cards falling under the Cigarette Card umbrella surmising that while tobacco cards were specifically issued with tobacco products, trade cards issued with other products, from gum and cereal to meats and breads, while not tobacco cards are indeed cigarette cards. In Murray's words: "We therefore prefer to use the term 'cigarette card; as a generic name of any cartophilic term, and shall be doing so throughout this book, regardless of the commodity concerned" (5).

The Story of Cigarette Cards then takes us on a trip around the world and through time in describing which companies issued what as well as where and when they did so. The fascinating roll call of tobacco companies and other type products issuing cards from around the world almost convinced me to sit down and draw out a graph charting them all through time and place. This would be quite the project due to how far Murray's text takes us!

Just like the history of the cards themselves, Murray's story of them at times reads like a general history book, especially in noting the rise of advertising for 19th century concerns, the tobacco wars at the turn of the century, and the actual World Wars and how they both stopped and later altered production. He discusses how early subjects were dictated by men, as they were the smoking population. Thus three main topics of interest were pictured on the majority of early cards: "sports, women and militaria" (24).

Details include reasons behind size and scope of certain sets. You know it's funny, dealing in movie star cards I always appreciate a 100 card or even larger set so the issue can picture some of the lesser known actors not included in a set of 36 or even 48 cards. It took Murray to remind me that the people who actually collected these cards as they were issued--the collecting masses of the period that I often wax on about--found larger sets frustrating because they were difficult to collect on a card by card basis.

I'm tempted to delve into further details but that's not the purpose of this post. This page is here to alleviate any doubts the book buyer, especially the American book buyer, might have before spending their hard earned money on Martin Murray's The Story of Cigarette Cards. The history of the the products, Cigarette Cards that is as under Murray's own wide definition found above, is traced with details filled in right down to specific set names not just from Murray's own base in Great Britain, but from around the world including, yes, America.

Of course the story of the cards is most definitely told from Murray's British perspective, but I do want to make clear this survey goes far and wide around the world. All the more amazing considering the 1987 publication of The Story of Cigarette Cards.

This is accumulated knowledge gathered by decades of hands-on research by Murray as collector and dealer and done so before benefit of the internet. You couldn't buy your cards through sites like eBay or gain knowledge through various forums and websites. There were books, clubs and small publications and many an old-time collector still prefers collecting by those methods even today. Social media? Uh uh, you wrote letters to fellow collectors met through those clubs and publications. Knowledge was earned.

Yet here is all is a tidy little volume that does all of that work for us.

If you haven't decided to hunt down a copy yet I'll finish up by saying I've never read anything as detailed about the subject especially from a purely historical view. Go pick one up now!

1. Introduction
2. The Origins of Cards
3. Early Tobacco Card
4. Tobacco War to Great War
5. Between the Wars
6. British Trade Cards to 1940
7. Modern Times
8. Continental Cards
9. North America
10. Further Afield
11. Odds and Oddities

128 pages including 32 pages with color reproductions of multiple cards upon each and a further 49 pages filled with similar black and white reproductions. As the text begins on page 5 that leaves just 42 pages of text and to be completely accurate there are even a few single card black and white reproductions appearing on those. That said, the text is abundant, typeface not too large, paragraphs quite fat. Each of those pages that do tell the story rather than showing it are jam-packed with zero attempt at filler.

Indispensable, entertaining and valuable to gaining a better understanding of the hobby, especially to those in the U.S., like myself, who handle items from elsewhere in the world.

Murray, Martin. The Story of Cigarette Cards. London: Murray Cards (International) Ltd., 1987

Final note: The page refers to the book as a paperback. Mine is hardcover with dustjacket. Murray Cards also publishes the Cigarette Card Values Guide with an all new edition just announced for for release in June/July 2012.

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