The impetus for this article harkens back to the Montreal Card Show in 2008. Two elderly gentlemen approached the booth next to mine and when they reached into a bag to retrieve three old cigarette packs and placed them on the table, my heart skipped a beat or three. The two Derby packs were used to store complete sets of C59 and a C60 lacrosse cards which were issued at the same time with similar hockey card sets in the 1910s.
The Sweet Caporal pack housed a set of 1909-10 C56 hockey cards, with the unmistakable crossed stick design, peaking out of the top.
I watched and waited patiently from about five feet away and after the two gentlemen left Simon Bourque’s booth, I quickly grabbed a few pictures of the three packs full of cards that remained on the table, apparently rendering a successful accord. This vignette was secured for my historical reference and yields much credence to cards coming from ten-count packs of cigarettes.
Fast forward to the present. While working diligently on my soon to be released hockey collectible website/app, my last dig for more information on the 1910s came up short to help fortify my write-ups.
Rather stumped, I did recall a friend having acquired a book called “Imperial Tobacco Canada 1908-2008 – Passion Innovation,” which focused on the vast archives of the Imperial Tobacco Company (ITC for short) of Canada. My friend Rang had already reviewed the book and found no ads or related information regarding the “C” series cards. Regardless, by the next day with the book in my hands, I began the slow grazing process of going through the writings when I found something of interest.
On one page of the 288-page book was a statement that In 1911, there were 585 million individual cigarettes sold in package form across Canada. That number represented only 19% of the Dominion’s total cigarette sales. The predominant balance of sales– 81%– preferred to smoke a pipe or cigars and from there the remaining percentage would roll their own cigarettes through purchase of bulk tobacco packages. A small number of that 81% also indulged in chewing tobacco and snuff.
Between 1910 and 1913, a typical box of ten cigarettes such as Black Cat and other popular brands cost 10 cents but the better brands like Tuckett or most imported cigarettes would sell for 15¢ cents per pack.
Through this time period prepackaged cigarette packs was not as popular as we may have once assumed and and you might even say that they were possibly directed toward Canadian society’s more affluent members. Cigarette smoking at this time was met with much opposition and was slowed by the Church, as it was considered an immoral vice coupled with temperance, although smoking a pipe or cigar was considered somewhat more acceptable. It wasn’t until World War I that smoking cigarettes met its stride.
Keeping tight with the numbers, the lion’s share of people who did smoke cigarettes would roll their own. A two-ounce pouch of loose-leaf tobacco would yield approximately 100 cigarettes for 25¢ or about 4-5 times less than the pre-rolled 10-cent packages. This would put the common smoker in the “roll your own” category.
It might be fair to say that if pre-rolled, packaged cigarette packs were more reserved for the bourgeoisie that 50 or 100-count tins of them were likely exclusive to the few willing to spend or afford that amount upfront. These large size tins were not so portable as to fit in one’s topcoat or shirt pocket rather meant to be stationary as on a coffee table, in a cabinet or on a closet shelf.
Now if the Sweet Caporal 10-cent packs contained a single trading card, what would be offered within a 50 or 100 count tin? More cards or possibly, a postcard? That speculation is not to say that the Sweet Caporal hockey postcards came in large cigarette tins but it sure does make you think.
Does this hypothesis hold water? Is the glass half full? It’s hard to say until we find a newspaper ad or in-store advertisement– or if you’re really into dreaming–an unopened tin might one day find its way to the marketplace and was opened publicly.
Sweet Caporal postcards have a “Printed in Britain” stamp on the back. This would lead anyone to believe that they were just that, made overseas and shipped to Canada. It was no secret that ITC’s parent company was the British American Tobacco Company (BAT) which was formed in 1902 through the amalgamation of the Imperial Tobacco Company of Great Britain and Ireland and the American Tobacco Company of Canada.
However, let’s play the devil’s advocate on the “Made in Britain” postcard. Could it be possible that the postcard stock was made in Britain but imported to Canada, then purchased by ITC and used to make the pictures on the postcards themselves?
Would ITC have taken the original hockey photographs/negatives from Canada and sent them overseas on a 5-to-10-day shipping voyage to Britain, then have them delivered to BAT to be printed, only to have them come back to Canada on another 5–10-day journey, then finally “distributed to the players” as it has been rumored in the hobby for years? Well, that is a lot of work for the 50 sets or so that are believed to have been produced. Surely, there were available printers in Canada and what would happen if there was an error that needed correcting on a postcard? With trying to stay open minded as possible, that glass is certainly getting past the half way point now.
Adding fuel to the fire, we have the 1910-11 C-55 cards to contend with as to who and where they were manufactured. I will concede an obvious observation that the backs of the cards do have a comparative British flare to their design.
For posterity but somewhat of a superfluous note regarding the C55 card set is that they are the only card set to have both numbering on the front and the back and at no time before and few after had this ever been done in a mainstream card issue.
Although with all that was stated prior, nothing confirms the C55’s cards were made in Britain, unless you use the same theory of the Sweet Caporal postcards, but what about the corrected error, #27a and #27b Walter Smaill, did he go back on a solo voyage to Britain?
In 2007, the original printing stone for the1909-10 C56 cards was uncovered. This 25-pound solid block of ancient limestone measures about 11” long x 9” wide x 2” thick. The stone contains all 35 different names of the C56 hockey player series which are etched in the stone block and are an identical when compared to the printed text on the cards. Also located on this limestone block is the card back design of a crossed hockey stick outline.
The C60 lacrosse card back template design also resides on the same stone block plus it houses the names of some of the lacrosse players as well. Stone lithography was used in all the 1910 card production and by analyzing this complete printing stone, we can conclusively put one of the hobby’s earliest mysteries to rest as to where the C56 cards were printed: in Canada!
The hockey numbering scheme on the stone extends to #37 in this standard 36-card set. Number 37 was used on a found few Newsy Lalonde cards and is ambiguously supported by the stone. We have no explanation as to why this card exists but there are many theories floating around the hobby. Two other players have two cards in this set but both have different images and numbers. The #37 Lalonde card doesn’t and thus, may have been discontinued at some point.
Let’s now compare the C-Series of both the hockey and lacrosse sets of the 1910s as they were issued in tandem with each other. The cards are aligned chronologically from left to right. Clearly, we can see middle two cards, C55 hockey and C60 lacrosse were augmented with an elaborate design opposed to their adjacent counterparts.
Would ITC have retained a new company to produce the cards? The easy answer is yes but is it up us to prove Canadian cards were made in Canada or more on those who dispute it?
Let’s summarize the information written in this article and see where we stand on the 1910s C-Series hockey cards.
- Were the cards issued in 10¢ ITC packs? Yes, but we have no confirmation if they were also issued pipe tobacco, cigar packages, tobacco pouches or 50-100 count tins.
- Cards found in these 10¢ packs were maybe not for the common smoker: Yes, considering the percentage of smokers and price points confirms it.
- Where the C55’s and Sweet Caporal postcards made in Britain? It can neither be confirmed or denied, however there is a good argument made on both sides with a little more weight on the “not made in Britain” side in your writers’ opinion.
- Did the Sweet Caporal postcards come in 50 or 100 count tins?: There is no proof either way.
- Did they make the Sweet Caporal postcards only for the players?: If an opinion is repeated enough times, hearsay can almost become the truth, however there is no facts to back this statement up at this time.
- Were the ITC C56 cards printed in Canada?: Yes
- Were the C55 cards issue by ITC?: Yes, with the identical numbering and artwork being taken from the Sweet Caporal postcard would confirm this.
- Were the ITC C57 cards printed in Canada?: Yes, with 32/50 images used from the Sweet Caporal postcards and matching card backs of the C56 would most likely confirm this to be so.
Although this article is not a panacea for all the bewildering questions of these hockey cards issues from the 1910s but it does pose some interesting hypotheses with a few keen citations, regrettably without complete resolve.