A guide to collecting cigarette packets as a hobby

10 July 2013
imports_CESC_0-1i69smro-100000_19010.jpg A guide to collecting cigarette packets as a hobby
Barry Russell of the Cigarette Packet Collectors Club of Great Britain provides a guide to getting started in the hobby. ...

Why do people collect cigarette packets as opposed to cigarette cards?

Cigarette cards were issued in such vast quantities and before the 1960s everybody smoked. Since early 1900 many millions of cigarettes were smoked daily at a time when it was unsociable not to smoke. Most cigarette packets contained cigarette cards and they were collected by most smokers.  They were issued for collecting purposes to promote brand loyalty and increase sales.

Cigarette packets on the other hand were produced primarily to house the cigarettes, only to be discarded when the contents had been smoked. Very soon the manufacturers came to see the benefit of producing colourful and eye-catching packets to tempt the smoker into buying  their products rather than those of rival companies.

The collecting of cards and packets is very much complementary as they go hand in hand. Most card collectors have some packets and most packet collectors have some cards. Cards are easy to come by and it is perhaps more challenging to collect packets as they are less common. It is not until a collector sees for the first time the beauty of the graphic design and artwork produced by skilled craftsmen that he becomes aware of a new field of possible collecting.

There are catalogues to cover all sets of cards issued by cigarette manufacturers. You can therefore target missing cards within a set and obtain them in due course. There is as yet no complete catalogue to cover cigarette packets. There is a personal joy to finding a new and unseen packet that is quite overwhelming.

Few people would realize that even in 1899 the trade magazine ‘Tobacco’ listed 20,000 brands of cigarettes and tobacco. Each year more brands were issued and the sheer variety and scope of the packets to be collected is quite staggering.

     MORE: Scotland in the Sixties

What makes a packet desirable to collectors?

It is primarily the visual impact of the packet that catches the eye of the collector. The pretty girl, the golfer, gunboats or colourful image stimulates the imagination and there is great competition to acquire packets from small independent manufacturers. The card catalogue shows a few hundred companies issuing cards but there were probably four times as many companies issuing cigarettes where no cigarette cards were included in the packet. Social history is also mirrored in the images of the cigarette packet.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the Coronation of British Kings, Kitchener, Sporting themes, Nautical and Aeronautical themes adorned packets in addition to the pretty girls. These initially came in paper packets which contained 5 cigarettes for 1d. Later 10 & 20 packets appeared in card form.

Vending machine packets during wartime sold packets of 10 & 20 but a series of wartime Budget increases led to a decreasing amount of cigarettes in the packet for the constant price - rather like modern times. The 10 packet became a 9 packet, the 9 packet became an 8 packet and then a 7 packet. Similarly the 20 packet became a 19 packet, an 18 packet and then a 17 packet. 

Certain manufacturers issued more appealing images than others but the more involved in collecting one becomes the more avenues of interest open up for exploration. New collectors can join the Cigarette Packet Collectors Club of Great Britain where no previous experience in this field is necessary. There is a vast array of packets to be acquired from within the club. A quarterly magazine is issued for members with articles covering a range of topics related to cigarette packets, tins and members research into all areas of interest.

A quarterly members postal auction is also held where over 200 lots are for sale. Prices realized are from £5 and upwards, depending on whether the items for sale are single packets or small collections. Generally packets can be obtained for 50p each for the common material, increasing where items are scarcer. Victorian packets would be worth much more than those of the current Queen.

Members are invited to pay an annual subscription of £14.00 a year to cover the cost of magazines and auction lists. At least one meeting is held each year in London where stallholders will offer packets for sale and the AGM takes place.

Our club has a website where applications may be downloaded and club details obtained. The most exciting aspect is perhaps the ‘Gallery’ where images of 500 packets may be viewed. The internet and eBay also provides details of packets for sale and the items on offer may pleasantly surprise browsers. Cigarette card fairs too, provide an opportunity to purchase cigarette packets where dealers often have items for sale.

How can existing collectors build up their collection?

Many collectors collect in isolation, completely unaware of others who also collect the same thing. Join the Cigarette Packet Club of GB and see the range of material available and extend your knowledge much wider than you might have imagined. Members often help other members with information or will exchange packets. When the urge to sell your collection in later years comes about, the club always offers to purchase the collection to sell on to new collectors.

Further reading

A history of cigarette and trade cards: the magic inside the packet by John Broom

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