Africana Notes

Tobacco inserts: a history

For at least half a century, cigarette makers issued series of colourful cards with their packs. These pictures tell an interesting story of their own..





Gallery of Beauty No. 2, Museum Africa, Johannesburg

Gallery of Beauty No. 2, Museum Africa, Johannesburg

MANY people, at some time or another, collected the cigarette cards that were distributed with packets of cigarettes for over 50 years until, in the early 1940s, all tobacco firms in South Africa discontinued their distribution.


But few, if any of such people, probably ever gave a thought to the possibility of someone writing about them. Over the last 15 years, I have assembled a very comprehensive collection of the card and silk issues of South Africa, together with information on some of the early companies that pioneered the tobacco industry of this country, but my information is still incomplete, as is my type collection. I have attempted to procure at least one specimen of every series and insert issued with a tobacco product in this country.


These days, when many people are choosing to buy e-cigarettes online instead, it seems unlikely that we will ever see cigarette cards distributed again. And while e-cigs are undoubtedly better for both the smoker and those around them, I feel that the heritage of the cards is something that is stil worth preserving.


In writing this article my purpose is threefold: firstly, to record something of the early beginnings; secondly, to ask for help from anyone who can add my information; and thirdly, to appeal that no old cards of scrap books, particularly of the pre-1910 vintage, are destroyed, however dirty and dog-eared they may be, without my first having the opportunity of studying them.


Regarding the early beginnings, Sir Walter Raleigh has been credited with introducing tobacco and smoking into England, but there is evidence that Christopher Columbus and his men brought tobacco to Europe in the late 15th or early 16th century, where initially the leaf found far greater vogue as a medical remedy than for smoking.


Examples of colourful cards issued with cigarette packs by cigarette makers.
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It was not until the second half of the 19th century that cigarettes made their first appearance in the UK, although the Russians had a factory (Huppman) as early as 1850. A Scotsman of the Macleod clan, by the name of Robert Peacock Gloag, saw Frenchmen Turks and Russians smoking cigarettes during his service in the Crimea War (1854-56) as paymaster-general to the Turkish Army.

He returned from the war, settled in London and introduced to England the first cigarette. It was a crude affair by today’s standards, consisting of a cylinder of straw-coloured paper into which a cane tip was fitted at one end and the tobacco, Latakia leaf, was filled into the tube through a funnel.


Gloag’s enterprise attracted many competitors, and by 1880 Lambart & Butler, who had been making pipe tobaccos since 1834, installed one of the earliest of all cigarette making firms, both large and small. By this time, the slide and shell type box had made its appearance, which rendered large-scale distribution of cigarettes a more feasible proposition than when they were sold in bundles by count or weight.


Tobacco comes to South Africa

Gallery of Beauty No. 48, Museum Africa, Johannesburg

Gallery of Beauty No. 48, Museum Africa, Johannesburg

So much for the early beginning outside South Africa. What happened here in the days before Union and before the turn of the century? The first cigarettes would have been imported and there is ample evidence from cards that cigarettes came from the UK, USA and Turkey.


In that delightful book, Trader on the Veld by Albert Jackson as told to Eric Rosenthal (published by AA Balkema, Cape Town, 1958), there is a reference in the chapter on Merchant Princess to certain imported cigarettes like Cameo, which was a Duke brand (USA) and Three Castle, a Wills brand (UK), but he also claims that the first South African-made cigarette was the Camp from Kimberley.


According to Jackson, with whom I conducted an interesting exchange of correspondence some years ago, he recalled that Camp were made by a Mr Lewis, whose granddaughter was the well-known theatrical actress and producer, Taubie Kushlick.


Kushlick introduced me to her mother, Mrs Braun, in 1959. Alas Mrs Braun was a very young girl in those days in Kimberley and had no records relating to her father’s cigarette manufacturing business. She told me the family moved up to Johannesburg when the gold fever started, so it is probable that Mr Lewis’s cigarette business was started sometime between 1870 and 1885.


Although cigarette cards can be traced back to 1879 in the USA and about 1888 in the UK, my earliest evidence of cards found in South Africa is in the period 1884 to 1890. I would therefore not expect to find Mr Lewis packing cards with his cigarettes when he started manufacturing, as I think South African manufacturers were more likely to have followed a lead set by the makers of imported cigarettes than to have been responsible for initiating a trend.


Most of the early cards were 10 or 12 colour lithographic productions produced in Saxony, France and the USA, although in the late 1890s there were a few productions by the Woodbury and Collotype processes that in all probability were prepared in the UK.


The Acme Cigarette Company opened its Three Castles factory in Johannesburg in 1894 to make cigarettes from the tobacco of WD & HO Wills Limited. According to The Transvaal and its Mines, edited by LV Praagh and published in 1906 (p348), the business was eventually acquired by the United Tobacco Company (North) on 30 September 1905.


I have often wondered whether this date is a misprint for 1902, as the British American Tobacco Company was registered on 29 September 1902 with capital of £6 million. From that date, BAT, of which UTC (North), was a subsidiary, would have assumed responsibility for all Wills’ business outside the UK.


Between 1895 and 1902, Acme issued Wills’ cards in the cigarettes it made for Wills, as cards from two series, Solders of the World and Soldiers and Sailors, are known with the normal Wills back overstamped “Acme Cigarette Co’s Free Sweep – see posters and handbills for particulars”.


The cards would have been imported and overstamped here. Can anyone produce this handbill? It appears that competitions with monetary prizes were popular around the turn of the century, as I have a card issued by the Acme Cigarette Company and described as a Retailer’s Competition Card showing on the front a view of the Three Castles Buildings Johannesburg, and on the back a validity date of 1 October 1903 to 31 March 1904. It also refers to a coupon enclosed in the packets that gives particulars of a half-yearly competition, but to date I have not come across a specimen of this coupon.


Actors and personalities

In the period 1895 to 1900, Wills issued numerous series of Collotypes depicting actresses and South African personalities, although neither series was titled as such. I have no evidence to show whether Acme packed such cards, although the assumption is that it did, but one printing of the South African personalities, in addition to bearing Wills’ name and advertisements, bears the legend: Advertisement JD Middlebrook, Photographer, Kimberley SA.


To my mind, Wills would only have agreed to such a legend appearing on its cards if either Middlebrook had produced them, or alternatively provided the originals for reproduction, as a photographer was hardly likely to have been instrumental in promoting sales of the actual cigarettes. Has anybody any information on how Middlebrook became associated with Wills Collotype card issues?


In the period 1890 to 1910, there were numerous companies making cigarettes in South Africa, but card issues have only been traced to the following in this period, in addition to Acme:


JH Drury, Port Elizabeth

Series of Actresses (Photographic)
Similar to Duke issues
1 subject known

ER Robinson & Co, Durban

Series of Actresses (Photograhic)

Manufactured Night & Morning

Similar to issues by Byrt Wood, Cigarettes and Water Lily Cigarettes, Gabriel and Goodbody in the UK
1 subject known

J Perilly

Series of Coloured Beauties
Similar to Manufactured Special Royal issues by Churchman, Cohen, Weenen Cigarettes, Fraenkel, Gabriel & Redford in the UK
4 subjects known

The Continental Cigarette Co   

Series of Russo-Japanese War

Cape Town and Johannesburg

Subjects similar to UK issues by

Manufactured Criterion Cigarettes

Cohen, Weenen & Phillips
1 subject known

South African Tobacco Co

Series of Dancing Girl of the World

Manufactured Derby Winner

Similar to the USA issue by Kimball

Duke of Wellington 1 subject known


Imported competition

Competition from imported cigarettes, many of which carried cards, and the following of a trend by the local manufacturers, undoubtedly would have compelled other local manufacturers to issue cigarette cards, which leads me to believe there are still many series to be discovered if specimens have survived the passage of time.


The following is a list of some of the firms that made cigarettes between 1890 and 1910. There are no doubt many others that may well have issued cards with their cigarettes.


Battery Cigarette Co, Johannesburg

Battery Cigarettes

C Langenstrass, Johannesburg

The Daisy Luxury Cigarettes

Messrs Lieber & Company, Fordsburg

Brands unknown but according to Praagh’s Transvaal and its Mines (p317), it is claimed that this firm was the first in South Africa to make cigarettes from locally grown tobacco

Aaron & Steinweis, Church Street Johannesburg Township.

Brands unknown

Holt & Holt, Port Elizabeth

Brands unknown

Jocoby, Goch’s Building, Pritchard Street   Sportsman Cigarettes


Driman Bros, Johannesburg (possible - connection with Lewis unknown)

Camp Cigarettes (see page 9 ZAR Staatscourant Bikvoegsel 29.0.99)

Ignatz Hanschell? Cigarettes

Aroma Cigarettes, Court Cigarettes, Dandy


In the 20 years from 1910 to 1920, there were many issues, but only cards from UTC after 1910 have come to light, with such series as Ozaka’s System of Self Defence, the Springbok series of 1912 – Triangular Test Match Cricketers, 1912-13 Springboks, all issued with Springbok Cigarettes, which must have been a very popular brand in those days. Hermann & Canard also issued a series of cards with Officers Mess Cigarettes about 1912 titled SA Rugby Football Team 1912-13, but it seems strange to me that no further issues have come to light between this one and 1918, when the business was acquired by BSA Company, which then changed the name to African Tobacco Manufacturers Limited Cape Town.


Sometime during this decade, James Taddy started making cigarettes in Cape Town. Apart from its famous Myrtle Grove Cigarettes, named after Sir Walter Raleigh’s Irish home at Yooghal near Cork, it made Picaroon, Vali and MLA cigarettes. The series Leading Members of the Legislative Assembly was only issued in South Africa, but the series Admirals and Generals, issued during the Great War of 1914 to 1918, was also issued by it in the UK.


Reissue of popular series

In the years 1920 to 1940, UTC issued under its own name some of the series issued by Imperial Tobacco Company in the UK. The series Do You Know, Merchant Ships of the World and Picturesque People of the Empire readily come to mind.


During the 1930s it issued a series of Regimental Uniforms that had originally been issued by Player in the UK in 1912 to 1914, and a series of Riders of the World first issued by Player in 1905. Such series, because of their subject matter, lost none of their appeal by later reissue – it is just surprising that the original plates were still available for these later issues.


It was during this time that cigarette cards were produced locally in South Africa and some outstandingly beautiful productions were made by Cape Times, Hortors and Galvin & Dales. In many cases, special albums were produced to hold the series.


Sometimes even special editions in English and Afrikaans were produced in place of the earlier bilingual albums. Although cards were the most popular of the tobacco inserts, the paper shortage during the First World War of 1914 to 1918 resulted in numerous series of silks being issued – the incentive being for women to use them for embroidery work.


Subjects covered were flowers, flags, roses, butterflies, sea shells, birds and even a series of railways engines. Little lace mats and imitation Persian rugs also appeared during the heyday of these non-card issues.


During the Anglo-Boer War, or South African War, Wills resorted to the issue of a series of medalets of about 15mm to 16mm in diameter, made out of either copper or brass and carrying a small ring for attachment to a watch chain. The observe of the medalet bore a well-known Boer War personality, the reverse an advertisement for one of Wills’ brands of cigarettes.


Four of these medalets were shown at the Exhibition of Commemorative Medals of the ZAR in the Johannesburg Public Library between 17 November and 11 December 1958, and are fully described in the catalogue for the exhibition compiled by Anna H Smith, at the time the curator of the Africana Museum in Johannesburg.


Playing cards

In the late 1920s and early 1930s miniature playing cards were issued, most of which could be exchanged for full-size packs of playing cards. They came at the time of the “coupon era” when, by collecting the requisite number of coupons, one could almost furnish a wardrobe or house. All these items are scarce but nevertheless well within the scope of collectable objects, as are the present-day little paper inserts describing the special qualities of the cigarettes with which they were packed.


Since 1910, many series were issued, especially by UTC, which bore no reference to the issuer. This enabled the cards to be packed in different brands of cigarettes without the need for special printings for each brand. Well over 50 such series were issued, excluding any of the anonymous silk and playing cards issued.


Despite the numerous native languages in use in this country, there is only one known issue of cigarette cards in a native language – a series of Zulu Chiefs issued about 1930 with Zulu typescript on the back and which presumably was issued specially in Zululand and Natal.


Although about 24 years have elapsed since the cessation of cigarette cards issues in this country, and 25 years in the UK, there are still many lying around in homes throughout the country, often retained for sentimental attachment, at other times because they have always been there and the present owner hesitates to throw them away. Alas, so many are thrown out during times of removal – may I plead that the knowledge that someone is interested will restrain further destruction, for each year that passes, my task in attempting to fill in some of the gaps becomes more difficult.



1.    Acme Cigarette Company – retailer’s competition card.
2.    WD & HO Wills – South African personalities (A) Front and back with “Middlebrook” advertisement.
3.    Anonymous issues with Zulu language back – Zulu chiefs (A). Subject illustrated U Tshonkweni Cele.
4.    Ogden’s Ltd. “Tab” cigarette issue – General interest.


(A) indicates the series is untitled and little shown is an adopted one.