Collecting Microscope Picture Cards

Player’s Hidden Beauties Tobacco Card Series. Eight examples from the twenty-five card set that depict topics inspired by commercially produced Victorian microscope slides.  The page number following the card’s title refers to where the Victorian slides of similar content are pictured in this work.

Cigarette cards, also called tobacco cards, are small cardboard chromo-lithographed pictures included with a package of cigarettes. The cards are about half the size of the better-known bubblegum trading cards popular during the 1950s.

The first cigarette cards were issued in the late 1870s. Initially, they were a way to class-up the look of cardboard stiffeners added to packs to protect the cigarettes from getting bent while being carried in one’s pocket. Tobacco manufacturers discovered that some customers were not only keeping the small cardboard pictures but collecting and organizing them into sets. Tobacco Companies began issuing cards as themed picture sets to capitalize on this unexpected development. Issuing series about famous actors, farm animals, airplanes, battleships, etc., were found to foster allegiance to a brand. The card’s reverse side carried descriptive information and facts about the subject. Contemporary tobacciana collectors estimate that English, Irish, and American tobacco companies issued around four-thousand different card picture-series during the forty-years following the cards’ first introduction. Aficionados of cigarette card collecting do so for the pictorial insights into the fads and interests of the late 19th and early 20th centuries the cards provide. Complete sets are most desirable to collectors and are currently selling between twenty-dollars on eBay to over a million dollars for rare baseball sets offered at card auctions.

Microscope Themed Tobacco Cards
After the First World War, the John Player and Sons Cigarette Company merged with the Imperial Tobacco Company but continued selling a line of tobacco products under the Player name. In 1929, the cigarette company issued a twenty-five card set titled Hidden Beauties. The series depicted images of the natural world looked when viewed through an microscope. Of the twenty-five cards in the series,  nineteen were drawings made from commercially prepared Victorian microscope slides. An additional eight cards depicted algae or other forms of pond life only viewable using live wet-mounts. Of particular relevance are eight cards in the series illustrating a microscope’s views of subjects included in this work.

“Like the Jewel in the Toad’s Head” The reverse side of the first card in the Hidden Beauties tobacco card series introducing what was to come. With an ungainly Shakespearean nod, the writer likens the wonders a microscope reveals to discovering a toadstone.  The card carries the names of both the Imperial Tobacco Company and John Player and Sons.


Top left:  Hidden Beauties. Card #1 introducing the series. (p xx)

Middle left: The mouths of a leaf. (p. xx)

Bottom left: A toothsome matter. (p. xx)

Top right: Part of a Miniature Forest. (p. xx)

Upper middle right: A Jerking Ring. (p.xx)

Center middle right: Eggs – of Sorts (p.xx)

Lower middle right: Globigerinids. (p. xx)

Bottom right: Radiolarians. (p. xx)