I just received a set of the gorgeous 1939 Rothmans Beauties of the Cinema tobacco cards this weekend that I listed for sale on eBay today. That Myrna Loy card to the right is one of them.
Honestly, I was just going to do a post pointing you over to them, but that seemed so crassly commercial, especially since I've long had a Photo ID Guide to the set on this site. I sort of chuckled to myself at the thought of telling you one more time how these were "one of the most beautiful sets of movie cards ever issued." I feel like I say that a lot!
But it's true!
I decided it might be a good time to create a list of some of my favorite movie card sets. I've been posting images and galleries on this site since 2002 now, so I thought there might be a good chance a few of you missed a few of my favorites over the past decade.
So I went into the Movie Card & Collectible Index and began opening up screens of my favorites. I'll just say there aren't many old movie issues that I hate! The entire Index itself is practically my list of favorites! I had to narrow this thing down.
Obviously the '39 Rothmans had to be on the list, after all, they were the spark for this post. So I decided to pick out only my favorite British issues.
Trying to be picky I got a little upset not opening any pages in the teens and twenties (I do love the 1920 F&J Smith's set, but I don't have a gallery of those on the site ... yet!), but then I found myself opening up so many pages once I hit the 1930's that I decided not to bother even going beyond 1939 in my Index.
What follows are my 10 favorite movie star tobacco card sets issued out of Britain during the 1930's. Every selection links to that sets Photo ID Guide/Movie Card Gallery on this site. Some are old pages, some are new, so they may look a little different from page to page, but they're all hosted right here.
I almost forgot to mention the best thing about my 10 favorites on this list--anybody, on any budget, can easily afford to collect them. In fact, the 1939 Rothmans are probably the priciest of the bunch, and they're really not too bad! Enjoy the list:
- 10: 1934 Ardath Famous Film Stars - This is one of those selections that's hard to explain as it doesn't seem very special at first glance--when you see a single card, that is. Alone they're almost kind of drab. Taken in together the 50 card set has a uniformity that adds to their attraction. The images are a little different in that they're pretty tight close-ups that don't hesitate to cut off ears and hair in many cases. They're not as tight as the cards in the Who Is This? set from the same company, featured on this list below, but the performers really do jump out at you. There's not a lot of color in this set, it feels very brown and gray and orange, but again, looking at them all at once this becomes a benefit. My favorites: Jimmy Cagney, Constance Bennett and Anna May Wong.
- 9: 1938 Carreras Film Favorites - It's all about the borders here. Nothing special about the 50 black and white images that make up the set, other than a strong selection of stars, but each image is surrounded by a gold border of various shapes and sizes and another gold border along the edge of the card--this makes them a bit condition sensitive as the gold is prone to chipping. In between that double gold border are two tones of various bright colors that make me think of a combination of colorful candy and the rainbow that was baseball uniforms of the 70's. I mean, really, some of these color choices are pretty funky! The Joan's, Blondell and Bennett, back to back cards in the set, almost look like candy canes, though a favorite in this one, by way of the image is Robert Taylor. Beautiful set.
- 8: 1935 Carreras Famous Film Stars - This 96 card set seemingly includes everybody from Hollywood's Golden Age and what's more includes them in very attractive images with blazing colors. It's a treat to find these high grade with the original gloss clean because then they really shine! Offering a few variations, including two different versions of the Laurel and Hardy card, there's not a pose to dislike in the set. I think I'm partial to the few horizontal shots as I find the Gloria Swanson card especially beautiful and also like the Ruby Keeler and Claudette Colbert cheesecake shots as well as the glamor image of Constance Bennett. Laurel and Hardy aren't the only pair in the set with first class offerings of Tarzan duo Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan as well as a nice shot of Thin Man pair, William Powell and Myrna Loy. Thelma Todd, Bette Davis, Ann Dvorak, so many favorites that I'm sure I have this one ranked a little low. Go check them all out!
- 7: 1935 Gallaher Signed Portraits of Famous Stars - Most Gallaher movie card sets from the 1930's are common and quality of the images can be an issue. These Signed Portraits of Famous Stars cards are their luxury model. Same size with similar back as the other more commonly found issues, the images on front really stand above the crowd of their other sets. Illustrated head shots with a uniform tannish background and reddish faded border the cards get their name from the bold facsimile signature of each star across the front of the card. Perhaps it helps that the last group of these I've seen, which are those shown in the gallery, were razor sharp cards grading NM-MT on average. A favorite is the Lionel Barrymore card which shows him with his white beard from David Copperfield (1935).
- 6: 1934 Carreras Film Stars - This is the oval set and they're quite popular. Key popular cards include The Four Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy. A 72 card set, it is selection such as that which helps make it one of my favorite sets, but the key component here, of course, is shape. They're also printed on a pretty light stock and had adhesive backs meant for inserting them into a special album, two traits which lead to many condition issues including creasing, damaged backs, and chipping along the edges. These are bad things, but the challenge adds to the desirability of collecting these for me. Typically you'll find these oval beauties either in perfect shape or beat to all heck.
- 5: 1939 R.J. Lea Famous Film Stars - This is one of a few Real Photo British Tobacco Issues and while I could have just as easily included some of the issues from John Sinclair I went with this R.J. Lea set largely because of composition. The 54 cards in their Famous Film Stars set are all of individual movie stars (unlike the Sinclair's which include some pairs) and the choices are top notch. The photos are crystal clear with strong light and dark backgrounds accentuating each image. Favorites of mine include Mickey Rooney smiling, Clark Gable at a slight angle, and Jimmy Stewart wondering what's up above. Heck, looking it over now I just love the entire set!
- 4: 1933 BAT World Famous Cinema Artistes - They're just different. A little larger than normal and almost square at 2-1/8 X 2-3/4 inches the images selected for this set from the British American Tobacco company almost look like custom paintings. Selection of who's in the set is a little odd, even stranger are the multiple appearances of some stars in what's just a 40 card set, but the blazing colors make for some real beauties here. My favorite: Lupe Velez.
A similar set that would have made a Top 15 list: 1935 BAT Cinema Celebrities, more standard rectangular size causes them to miss the cut, but the images are just as pretty and set is a little bigger with 48 cards.
- 3: 1936 Ardath Who Is This? - It's a gimmick, but the gimmick works. The 50 cards in this set each show an extreme close up of an actor or actresses face with the focus on their eyes, nose and mouths. Chins are cut off, as is the hair. Underneath each image is a little clue, such as the one found on card #11: "Determined Lips - Resolute Eyes - Whose Are They?" Flipping the card over we discover that this is Gary Cooper and a brief biography follows under his name.
- 2: 1934 Godfrey Phillips Stars of the Screen - Godfrey Phillips issued a Stars of the Screen set several times in the 1930's but there's something subtle about this 1934 set that makes it one of my all-time favorites. The most striking feature of the set is probably the gold oval frame around each portrait, but I think that alone does not do it. The background, which practically matches the color I've used on the Immortal Ephemera site, helps make that oval frame stand out more and the images of the stars are accented by color tones and they appear to have some shadowing added. The selection of stars that make up the 54 card set is strong and while some poses are familiar others are not. I particularly like the Ginger Rogers card in this set.
I'm also a big fan of the 1936 version of the Stars of the Screen set. Once again, very attractive frames and with the black borders the '36's are a bit more condition sensitive as well.
- 1: 1939 Rothman's Beauties of the Cinema - Yep, these are champ for me. They're circular, somewhat large at 2-1/2 inches in diameter, and as beautiful as the Beauties featured in the set. All actresses with Jean Harlow the key card, every beautiful face stands before an almost sparkling gold background. The set was issued with both a glossy and a matte finish, which while they both make for very pretty cards the glossy is the more desirable.
Rothmans also issued a larger (in quantity) set of Beauties that year in a more standard rectangular card format. I had to restrain myself from also including them on the list!
There you have it, my favorite 10 British movie star tobacco card sets from the 1930's. The order could change and there are another 5 to 10 sets that could break through at any time depending on my mood, but hopefully we're in agreement that the 10 sets selected here are among the most beautiful issued during those top times for tobacco cards.
Yes, we'll do this again at some point. I don't know how focused the next list will be, but it will likely feature something American. Perhaps trading and tobacco cards; perhaps supplements and premiums since I'm partial to those.
Hope you enjoyed it and maybe found a set you'd forgotten about or perhaps never seen. There are cards from each of these sets available for sale in my eBay Store, but here's that link to the 1939 Rothman's once more, since they're the freshest of the bunch.