Cigarette & Trade Cards Portraying National Flags and Emblems


When W.D.& H.O.Wills started issuing small tickets with wording on, followed by miniature copies of famous showcards, Cartophily (the official name for Cigarette Card Collecting) was born in the UK. This was in 1887 but it took a few years before it developed further.

In 1895 the first general interest set of “Ships and Soldiers” cards was issued closely followed by “Cricketers” in 1896 and “Kings and Queens” in 1897. The “Kings and Queens” set were the first to have short notes on the back discussing the images on the front.

From about 1901 cigarette cards became increasingly popular and were issued by over 300 tobacco companies covering a wide range of subjects including National Flags and Emblems.

The high cost of materials, especially after the Second World War, meant that the frequency of issuing cigarette cards was dramatically reduced by tobacco companies. Collectors cards were continued however by tea, cereal and sweet (Trade) manufacturers who started to include them with their products.


With low levels of literacy in the late 19th century, the impact of the cigarette card took a while to catch on and was sought mostly for the colourful images. After the “Kings and Queens” edition in 1897, and the subsequent reprint in 1905 after the death of Queen Victoria, the text started to be an important part of learning and development especially for children.

Tobacco companies went to great lengths to ensure that the detail depicted on the cards, and the text accompaniment, were as accurate as possible and now, over 100 years later, they are a great source of reference to the topic covered – especially the images which were free from political bias.

National Flags and Emblems

The world and its geography is constantly changing whether it be as a result of war, obtaining independence or simply by political convenience nations flags and emblems have changed with the times as well.

By analysing cigarette and trade cards over the years you can see the changes that have taken place and how some countries have developed and, in a number of cases, disappeared from the political landscape.

The detail on the back of the card is just as important as the front in this respect as it highlights the political thinking at the time much of which in retrospect was heavily biased towards the issuing country of origin.

Cigarette and Trade Card Sets – National Flags and Emblems

Unfortunately complete sets of all of the cigarette and trade cards issued relating to national flags and trade cards over the past hundred years or so are extremely difficult to obtain.

In addition as card sets tended to consist of either 25, 50 or (in exceptional cases) 144 cards so only a few nations were selected to be portrayed. When reviewing the sets issued it is interesting to see which nations were selected and the importance of them at the time. Flagmakers have been able to obtain a number of sets and we will be publishing these in their entirety so that you can see the changing face of flags, arms and emblems over the years.

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