Gardening and cigarette cards

by James Alexander-Sinclair

I've found an interesting artefact, a remnant of a time long gone. Lurking in a cupboard I discovered an old album of Cigarette Cards assembled by my father in 1939.

Cigarette card depicting wild scabious flowers.I've found an interesting artefact, a remnant of a time long gone. Lurking in a cupboard I discovered an old album of cigarette cards assembled by my father in 1939. For those younger readers of this illustrious blog I will explain.

Starting in the late 19th century, cigarette packets included a piece of card to stiffen the paper packets. Some bright spark had the idea of printing pictures on these cards and a whole new aspect of collecting was born: cartophily.

Usually these cards depicted cricketers, soldiers, cars or railways. However, two of the sets included in my father's album have a relevance to gardening - hence their inclusion here. One series is called 'Garden Hints' and includes such things as making a crazy paved surround to a seat, laying lawn edging and root pruning cordon fruit trees (while, apparently wearing a pair of white cricket trousers and a double-breasted blazer!). The best tip is for a slug trap: "take an old photographic negative and a piece of tin. Solidified methylated spirit should be powdered and mixed with bran, and the mixture scattered on the negative which is then set on the ground. The tin, supported by a piece of wood keeps the bait dry". It's a great act of faith to follow instructions written on such small bits of card!

Another is a series of fifty garden flowers ranging from delphiniums and water lilies to annuals like bright red salvias and candytuft. Each card has a bit of information and some hints about cultivation written by Richard Sudell - who wrote a number of important garden books in the 1930s.

The photography is not brilliant, but what struck me is that nothing much changes, they're still much the same plants grown in much the same way.

Except that perhaps our slug-catching techniques have improved a little.

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Gardeners' World Web User 06/03/2009 at 06:27

don't destroy your lovely collection by dismantling the book framing the pictures, that would be a crime.

Gardeners' World Web User 12/09/2009 at 21:05

This blog rocks! I gotta say, that I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I'm glad I found your blog. Thanks, A definite great read... - Bill Bartmann

Gardeners' World Web User 17/09/2009 at 12:33

Just wanted to say hello all. This is my first post. I expect to learn a lot here.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2011 at 18:38

That is absolutely fascinating! I'm from America, and the examples you give are (I'm happy to say) well before my time. I don't have any idea, therefore, if we ever did anything like that here. Probably not. I believe you've inspired me to shop e-Bay and see if I can find any!