Allen & Ginter baseball card of Charles Comiskey (1887)
Allen & Ginter baseball card of Charles Comiskey (1887)

In the mid-19th century, blank cards were used to strengthen paper cigarette packs. Manufacturers soon realised the potential of these cards for advertising. The oldest known advertising card was issued in 1878 with Marquis of Lorne cigarettes distributed by the American News Company in the United States. (The card has a picture of the Marquis who was the Governor-General of Canada. Only one example of this card is know.)

Soon afterwards, some manufacturers began to promote their products by producing cigarette cards with each card having a picture rather than just advertising. The cards formed a set with a common theme to encourage buyers to collect the complete set.

Major manufacturers soon followed. “Tobacco cards”, as they were called in America, were introduced by Allen and Ginter in America in 1886. In Britain, W D & H O Wills introduced “cigarette cards” in 1888.

In 1880, James Buchanan Duke had entered the cigarette manufacturing business using newly invented cigarette rolling machines to uncut his competitors. By 1888, his American Tobacco Company had achieved dominance of the American market and Duke attempted to buy up the British market. The thirteen main British manufacturers responded by merging to form the Imperial Tobacco Company. Each of the original companies continued to do its own advertising and marketing. This led to the same cards being produced with different manufacturer’s names on them.

Did You Know?

Queen Victoria’s opposition to smoking was so renowned in the Royal Court that her son,  Edward V11, announced her death with the words “Gentlemen, you may smoke”.

Despite the reduced use of cards for promotional purposes interest in card collecting as a hobby continued. To meet this need, cards designed specifically for collecting were produced. These “trading cards” were usually sold in packs containing a selection from the full set. Collectors would buy a number of packs and swap duplicates to obtain a full set. Usually some cards were much less common and, so, more valuable than others.

A more recent variation of trading cards is “customisable game cards” (or CCGs). These are sold as a “starter pack” with enough cards to play a game. Packs of additional cards may be bought to supplement the starter pack. The objective is to buy or swap cards so as to build up the strongest possible deck. The first was Magic: The Gathering introduced in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast.

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