Back in the day when cigarette smoking was cool (and some physicians actually prescribed cigarette smoking to their patients!) tobacco companies invested heavily in advertising.
One of the most successful and effective methods for spreading the word about cigarettes was through printed cigarette cards.
Issued between 1885 and the beginning of World War II, pictorial cards were extremely popular with consumers. Each cigarette pack included a collectible card and a bit of history, which might have helped smokers justify wasting their money and health on the wicked weed.
In England, John Player & Sons (a branch of The Imperial Tobacco Company) was arguably the most popular producer of collectible cards. They typically issued their cards in sets and encouraged consumers to collect them all.
The company issued hundreds of different sets, some containing as many as 50 individual cards. The most popular sets featured images of royalty, with collectible sets depicting kings and queens, coronations, castles, and highlighted events from a particular monarch’s reign.
While not quite as popular, the company also issued about a dozen sets dedicated to literary characters. Dickens was very popular; Thackeray and Scott had their own sets, too.
The images in this post give a sampling of characters from books published in 1766 to the mid-1800s. Some of the artwork was produced by major artists, including H. M. (Henry Matthew) Brock, British illustrator of Jane Austen’s novels.
I like these particular images, because they coincide with the way I imagined the characters in my head when I read the books.
An added bonus: the Cliffs-Notes-style descriptions of the books on the reverse side of the cards, which gave just enough information about the characters and the plots for smokers to converse intelligently about classic novels while they smoked themselves to death.
My favorite cards are the three characters from Vanity Fair: Becky Sharp, Jos Sedley, and Lady Southdown.
What do you think: Are the characters portrayed on these cards as you imagined they would look?