Cigarette cards

Collection History

The cigarette card series in this digital presentation comprise just the beginning of the Library's extensive, international collection of tobacco cards, which now numbers more than 125,000 individual items, including more than 3000 complete sets. While bibliophile George Arents (1875-1960) did not collect cigarette cards, he provided an endowment for the continued growth of his comprehensive collection on tobacco (whose processing and packaging had provided his fortune), which he had begun donating to NYPL in 1944. In addition to literature and artworks, the tobacco collection's scope has come to encompass a wide range of visual materials and printed ephemera associated with that commodity. The cigarette cards were acquired by curators in the 1960s and later .


Cigarette or tobacco cards began in the mid-19th century as premiums, enclosed in product packaging. They were usually issued in numbered series of twenty-five, fifty, or larger runs to be collected, spurring subsequent purchases of the same brand. Typically, these small cards feature illustrations on one side with related information and advertising text on the other. (This digital presentation enables both views.) The height of cigarette card popularity occurred in the early decades of the 20th century, when tobacco companies around the world issued card sets in an encyclopedic range of subjects. After a slump during the First World War, popularity resumed, with new emphasis on film stars, sports, and military topics. Plants, animals, and monuments of the world remained perennially favorite themes.

While most cards were produced by conventional offset or other economical commercial printing processes, a few series were issued as original gelatin silver photographs or printed on silk or linen fabric; others were created as puzzles or paper toy cut-outs. The appeal of contemporary cigarette cards fell by the 1950s, ceasing their production and distribution.

Related Resources

Bagnall, Dorothy. Collecting Cigarette Cards and Other Trade Issues. [c1965]

Burdick, J.R. The American Card Catalog; a Comprehensive Listing ... ([1946?])

Cartophilic Society of Great Britain. Cartophilic Reference Books. ([1942]-1969)

Cartophilic Society of Great Britain. The Cartophilic Notes & News. (1965- )

Christie's South Kensington. The Bernard Perrin Collection of Printed and Woven Silk Cigarette and Periodical Inserts [auction catalog] (September 27, 1978)

Cruse, A.J. Cigarette Card Cavalcade; Including a Short History of Tobacco. (1958)

Duke University, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History. "Tobacco Advertising: Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920." (c2000)

Evans, Idrisyn Oliver. Cigarette Cards, and How to Collect Them. (1937)

Fletcher, H. George. "Indomitable Collector: George Arents, Jr. and The New York Public Library." Biblion: The Bulletin of The New York Public Library 9, no.1/2 (Fall 2000/Spring 2001):87-103.

Genders, Roy. A Guide to Collecting Trade and Cigarette Cards. (1975)

Harvard University, Baker Library. "The 19th-Century American Trade Card." (c2001) <>

Howsden, Gordon. Collecting Cigarette & Trade Cards. (1995)

Jay, Robert. The Trade Card in Nineteenth-Century America. (1987)

London Cigarette Card Company. The Catalogue of International Cigarette Cards. (c1982)

Murray Cards (International). Catalogue of Cigarette & Other Trade Cards. 3.ed. (1981)

Scott, Amoret and Christopher Scott. Tobacco and the Collector. (c1966)

Talbot, Steve. "Steve Talbot's Cartophily Pages." (last updated 11 december 2002) <>

Collection Data

Show filters Hide filters
49,680 results found