by William Roe
Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 8 (1999)
When I was at school during the 1920s and early 1930s, collecting cigarette cards was one of the many hobbies indulged in by myself and my contemporaries. In all probability that was the time when card collecting was at its peak. The practice of producing cigarette cards began back in the 1880s and the cards were produced by other traders, besides cigarette companies, notably purveyors of tea.
In 1927 a Chiswick resident, Col Charles Bagnall, DSO, MC, set up his own cigarette card business under the name of the London Cigarette Card Company. Col Bagnall occupied a large double-fronted Victorian house known as Cambridge House, on the corner of Wellesley Road and Cambridge Road. The extensive wall space on the ground floor rooms accommodated his large collection of cards. I visited Col Bagnall’s house in about 1935. The Colonel responded to my enthusiasm by showing me some of his countless series of cards. Many of them were quite exotic, some even printed on silk, backed by card. Col Bagnall died during the 1960s but his daughter Dorothy continued to run the business.
In 1977 the London Cigarette Card Company moved to Somerton in Somerset where it continues to deal in cigarette cards, despite Dorothy’s death in 1986. The company showrooms in West Street, Somerton display a wide range of cards. There are over two and a half thousand sets on subjects such as sport, military, royalty, motor cars, steam trains and nature. One particularly interesting set is ‘Picturesque London’ from paintings commissioned by John Player and Sons. It includes an illustration of St Paul’s Cathedral from the river which, on the reverse side of the card, explains that during the 1920s a costly restoration scheme was carried out to preserve the Cathedral’s fabric following the discovery that the Cathedral showed serious signs of weakness. But for this renovation work, the fate of the Cathedral could have been very much worse during the Blitz.
Cigarette cards, particularly early ones, few of which have survived, are now very collectable. In 1992 a world record of 450,000 US dollars (about £275,000) was paid for a single cigarette card at an auction in New York.