Beginning in 1875, cards depicting actresses, baseball players, Indian chiefs, and boxers were issued by the US-based Allen and Ginter tobacco company. These are considered to be some of the first cigarette cards. Other tobacco companies such as Goodwin & Co. soon followed suit. They first emerged in the US, then the UK, then, eventually, in many other countries.
In the UK, W.D. & H.O. Wills in 1887 were one of the first companies to include advertising cards with their cigarettes, but it was John Player & Sons in 1893 that produced one of the first general interest sets ‘Castles and Abbeys’. Thomas Ogden soon followed in 1894 and in 1895, Wills produced their first set ‘Ships and Sailors’, followed by ‘Cricketers' in 1896. In 1906, Ogden’s produced a set of football cards depicting footballers in their club colours, in one of the first full-colour sets.
Each set of cards typically consisted of 25 or 50 related subjects, but series of over 100 cards per issue are known. Popular themes were 'beauties' (famous actresses, film stars and models), sporters (in the US mainly baseball, in the rest of the world mainly football and cricket), nature, military heroes and uniforms, heraldry and city views.
Today, for example, sports and military historians study these cards for details on uniform design.
Some very early cigarette cards were printed on silk which was then attached to a paper backing. They were discontinued in order to save paper during World War II, and never fully reintroduced thereafter.
World record price
Early in 2007, a world record price was paid in America for a single card - $2,350,000. This card was sold later on in the year for another world record price $2,800,000. The card in question featured Honus Wagner, one of the great names in U.S. baseball at the turn of the 20th century. Wagner was a dedicated non-smoker and objected when America’s biggest tobacco corporation planned to picture him on a cigarette card without his permission. Threats of legal action prevented its release, but a few slipped out, and it was one of these that stunned the collecting world when it was auctioned.