John Player & Sons Set of Modern Naval Craft Cigarette Cards 1939
This Modern Naval Craft series came out in 1939, just at the beginning of World War II. In December 1939, HMS Exeter (card 6), engaged the Admiral Graf Spee (card 24) in the famous Battle of The River Plate. Another German battleship, Bismarck, was targeted by the Royal Navy in May 1941 and caused the shock sinking of HMS Hood (card 4) with only three survivors from a crew of 1,400. Revenge was had when Swordfish aircraft from the carrier Ark Royal (card 16) disabled the German raider, enabling the battleship King George V to close in for the kill. The Ark Royal was sunk later that year when torpedoed in the Mediterranean. A month later the battlecruiser Repulse (card 5) was sunk by Japanese torpedo-bombers.
The1930s was the heyday of cigarette cards when virtually every packet contained a little picture. The major companies like Wills and Players had their own studios and artists devoted entirely to the production of cigarette cards. It was big business, and massive print-runs often ran into hundreds of millions for each series. Sets can be bought for around £15. The hobby goes back to the 1890s when cigarettes were wrapped in paper packets. Manufacturers inserted pieces of card to protect the contents realising that these could be useful for advertising products. These were followed by pictorial sequences which would build up in to sets, encouraging repeat purchases and establishing brand loyalty. The subjects were most likely to appeal to the predominantly male customer base. Beautiful young women, sportsmen and soldiers dominated the earliest series. Newspapers carried few illustrations and living standards were much lower. For most smokers the cards were a window on to the world, serving to educate, excite or amuse. They were colourful, informative and free.
Artwork is by Frank Mason with fully descriptive accompanying texts, a reminder of Britain's great naval tradition.