Ramstein Welfare Bazaar preview Cigarette cards: A lesson in history

Brandi Maly
Kaiserslautern American

Three years ago my husband and I had the good fortune of meeting a lovely British couple at the Ramstein Welfare Bazaar.

Bob Wallis is a retired policeman and for almost 10 years he was the commander of the Sub Division named Newmarket which included the civilian responsibility for the bases of RAF Mildenhall and Lakenheath. He retained the distinction of commanding the Mildenhall Air Show for 10 years which, at that time was the largest two-day air show in Europe.

His wife Janet is a retired school teacher who suggested they pursue their hobby “in a small way” which has since blossomed into an enjoyable and flourishing business.

At a recent bazaar, we wandered into Bob and Janet’s little booth and were given a friendly lesson in cigarette card history and have since become cartophilists (cigarette card collectors) ourselves.

Cigarette cards were given as free gifts inside cigarette packs and were uniquely introduced in the United States more than a century ago. Following complaints of damaged cigarettes in packs, American tobacco manufacturers came up with the idea of providing beautiful pictures on thick cards to be used as stiffeners inside the packs. The first sets included photographic cards of girl cyclists, actors, actresses, beauties and celebrated American Indian chiefs. The world’s first baseball cards were in fact American cigarette cards.
This unique tradition continued until 1903 when the beginnings of the Imperial Tobacco Company of Great Britain and Northern Ireland emerged. Thereafter cigarette cards were distributed worldwide throughout the former British Empire. With a few exceptions, cigarette cards finished in the United States in 1910 and in the United Kingdom (with similar exceptions), in 1940.
Cigarette cards reflect almost every subject imaginable. The dates printed on the back are well researched and the cards are high quality. This information poignantly and accurately describes history and they are, in themselves, educational. Some of the most popular cigarette cards include illustrations of architecture, flowers, military subjects and sports. Cigarette cards convey truth, beauty and culture by picture and the printed word.

Cigarette cards are truly a historic part of the tobacco manufacturing industry and their value will substantially increase over the next decade or so.
Bob and Janet have been regulars at the Ramstein Bazaar since 1997. They said the largest collectors of cigarette cards are often school teachers.  What Bob and Janet have found most amusing is that Air Force families often purchase Army and Navy cards and Army folks collect aeroplane sets. No particular category is more collectible than others. New collectors are always welcome, and Bob and Janet will cheerfully explain the nature and range of this hobby.

For more information, e-mail bob-gaze
leyccs@lineone.net or check out their
Web site www.gazeleyccs.com.