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From the archives: What's in your attic? - Cigarette cards

23 April 2007

A small piece of cheaply printed cardboard that was once given away with a packet of cigarettes was sold recently for $2.35 million (about £1.25 million).

Cigarette cards began in the 1880s and collecting them is now a worldwide business.
Cigarette cards began in the 1880s and collecting them is now a worldwide business.

It bore the face of US baseball star Honus Wagner and is the rarest – and most valuable – cigarette card in existence

Honus – who played in the early 1900s – demanded that the card be withdrawn, either because he was not paid enough or because, rather ahead of his time, he did not want to encourage children to smoke. Either way, only a few examples are known.

Cigarette cards began in the 1880s and collecting them is now a worldwide business. 

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Condition is vital

Common sets – and modern reproductions – can be bought for a few pounds or even pence, rare and older sets can fetch hundreds. The London Cigarette Card Company celebrates its 80th birthday this year and Ian Laker has been managing director since 1971.

He says, "In Britain we have nothing like the Honus Wagner card. The closest is the set of 20 clowns and circus performers due to be issued by the small cigarette company Taddy after the Second World War. But Taddy went out of business and they were never issued. In good condition they could fetch £15,000 now."

But he warns that such values are very rare. "Between the wars cards were very common, issued in their millions. Smaller makers and rarer sets, especially before the First World War, can fetch a bit of money. But condition is vital, they must be near perfect to fetch top prices."

Even then we are talking tens or low hundreds of pounds rather than thousands. 

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Popular cards

Cricket has always been a popular theme, and football is now growing. Ogdens Football Caricatures from 1935 are available at £130. Vehicles are also popular.

WD and HO Wills's Railway Engines 1924 can be bought for £60. If you have a set tucked away in a box or bookcase you can get an idea of values from the website, or its catalogue which lists 6,500 different series with their values. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.