Compressed History : Down The Pit

Is it possible to compress more history into such a small space as with cigarette cards? These tiny illustrated cards were given away free with packs of cigarettes back in the mid-twentieth century, so all the family could benefit from the tobacco trade: mum and dad could smoke themselves to death whilst smiling children stuck the cards in albums! I have a collection of my own – from the 1950s – put away somewhere in a box or cupboard, but the one illustrated here comes from the collection of my Uncle Frank – who managed to both smoke himself to death and collect the cards at the same time! The cards were published in series, and the task facing all collectors was to acquire the complete set. This gave rise to the usual cycle of buying, selling, swapping and stealing. This particular series dating from the 1930s is entitled “Our King and Queen”, and Card No. 49 shows the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The photograph used on the card was taken at a visit to a Durham pit (conveniently owned by the Queen’s family) in 1936, in the months just before the abdication of King Edward VIII. It’s another of those photographs that you could base a social and economic history seminar on.

This is a Sepia Saturday Post. To see more on the same theme, visit the Sepia Saturday website by clicking the link above.

6 thoughts on “Compressed History : Down The Pit

  1. I’m really surprised to learn the Royal Family allowed the use of their photographs by a cigarette company. I assume the cigarette company did have their permission? Or are public pictures of the family free for anyone’s use for any reason?


  2. Ha! The queen is dressed in white for her descent into a coal mine. I wasn’t aware of cigarette cards, but I still have Beatle cards I got from bubble gum.


  3. I do recall seeing scantily clad gals selling cigarettes in night clubs, as depicted in various films of the 40’s and 50s…this photo seems strange because of course I didn’t recognize the people…being but an American. I can’t imagine that they liked seeing themselves depicted thus.


  4. I can easily imagine a whole lecture on the history contained in this simple cigarette card. The irony is that George VI was a chain smoker which ended his life at far too young an age. I was intrigued by N’gale’s question to look up whether George or the royal family ever did make such endorsements. A 2015 article in the Guardian suggested his picture should be included on all packets of cigarettes as a warning against the hazards of smoking. It linked to another article from February 1999 that reported that H.M. the Queen was revoking the Royal Warrant to the tobacco company Gallaher which manufactured Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut cigarettes. After 122 years, the Queen’s coat of arms would finally disappear from its cigarette packets. But it does make you wonder if there is a album of cigarette cards in Windsor’s royal archives.

    And I like your new improved blog, Alan. For the past year I’ve been thinking of breaking away from too.


  5. You’re right, Alan. An amazing amount of history compressed into one cigarette card. I wonder if anyone amassed the entire card set and what it is worth today? That would make an interesting followup post.


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