Event on Famous British Authors of 1937 Wills Cigarette Cards Series

On Saturday I spent an extremely interesting afternoon at Sheffield Hallam University at the above event. Reading 1900-1950 is one of the blogs I follow and I was delighted to finally be able to attend one of Professor Chris Hopkins’s events. The Readerships and Literary Cultures 1900-1950 Special Collection of 1000 early editions of popular fiction is housed at The University Library. Read more about it here.

Professor Hopkins welcomed us to the event which was part of the ‘Being Human‘ Festival of the Humanities which is a national forum for public engagement with humanities research.

Here is a copy of the email Chris sent out to all attendees a few days ago.

Dear Being Human Festival 2017 Guest,

Many thanks for booking for this free Being Human event on Saturday 18th November 1 -4 pm.

The event will be held at Sheffield Hallam University City Campus (Sheffield S1 1WB) in Room Surrey 5520. The event will be signed from the university Main Entrance on Hallam Square so just follow the signs – Surrey 5520 is on the same level as Main Entrance.

Here is the programme – as advertised, but with one change: cakes instead of biscuits at the tea-break!
1 – 1.30pm : Cigarette Cards – an introduction

1.30 – 2.15 pm : Famous British Authors of 1937 (brief introductions to four selected authors, and reading aloud of short typical extracts)

2.15 – 2.30pm : tea, coffee and cake
2.30 – 3pm : Vintage browsing! – a chance to handle and look at the Famous British Authors Series and to compare them with other sets of cards from the Thirties and to browse early editions of books by Famous British Authors of 1937


3.15pm : conclusion: Why are some bestsellers forgotten? Why are some remembered?
(We should finish by circa 4pm – depending how much we chat!)

Very much looking forward to the event and to meeting you all.

Best wishes Chris.”

After being welcomed by Professor Hopkins he went on to tell us more about the fascinating hobby of cartophily: the collecting of picture cards, such as postcards or cigarette cards, as a hobby. He had brought along books on the subject. He also wished to stress that the event had no sponsorship by the tobacco industry!


Dad and lad collecting cigarette cards (I expect mum and Jane are playing houses or shops)

Actually, quite unintentionally, we may also be cartophilists! Up in our attic we have several boxes of virtually pristine cigarette cards mostly housed back in their own cigarette packs. Unfortunately, we don’t have the 1937 Famous British Authors set.



The categories, and authors within each, are the choice of Professor Hopkins

There are only a few of the Less Well-remembered that I haven’t heard of – but then I did work in public libraries in the 1970s.

The four selected authors were chosen by four readers in The Reading 1900-1950 Group : Lady Eleanor Smith ; J B Priestley ; Denise Robbins ; and “Sapper”

Denise Robbins was a romantic novelist who published over 200 books and it is said that she once met Barbara Cartland and told her she was writing her 85th novel. Cartland retorted that she’d written 145 and the scathing response was “Oh? One a year, then”

The reader who chose JBP concentrated on The Wonder Hero – which I and most of the audience had never heard of – but we all want to read it now. This story may be apocryphal but when Mr Hanson moved to Bradford to teach at our sons’ school he was surprised that the local Waterstones had no copies of JB Priestley books. He set about re-printing them in the Re-discovering Priestley Series.

It was said of Lady Eleanor Smith (she always used her title) that “she makes the Mitfords look ordinary”. An Alderman, who had her books banned from the local Public Library, apparently said that “she knows too much”. Her father was FE Smith who was the youngest Lord Chancellor and was created the 1st Earl of Birkenhead. Apparently, she was fun!

Sapper” was the pseudonym for Herman Cyril McNeile who, amongst other characters, created the Bulldog Drummond.  In the Wikipedia entry “Drummond is a World War I veteran who, fed up with his sedate lifestyle, advertises looking for excitement, and becomes a gentleman adventurer.” The books and many film adaptations are definitely not pc to our ears and eyes: xenophobic and antisemitic, chauvinistic and very distasteful more or less sum them up.


A summary of forgotten and remembered authors and sources for obtaining copies today





7 comments on “Event on Famous British Authors of 1937 Wills Cigarette Cards Series

  1. Fran says:

    What fun! I can see your TBR piles will be toppling over now.
    And now I know that from an early age I was a cartophilist. Upstairs in my attic are sets of tea cards collected when young along with many, many postcards.

    • Yes, Fran, the first things I thought of were the tea cards which we collected every Sunday when we visited our gran. The many, many postcards – still collected today – fill show boxes and date back to the 1950s. To be honest a lot of these authors won’t get into my TBR pile. I have to draw the line somewhere – so I don’t ‘do’ crime, nor romance. But when I’ve whittled the pile down a bit more I may invest a few Priestleys.

  2. Cosy Books says:

    Wonderful post! I’ve just finished reading The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard and cigarette cards are mentioned a few times. Oh the days of prizes in boxes of cereal, porcelain figures with your box of tea bags….I wonder what profit margins were back then?

    • Thank you, Cosy Books. I hadn’t noticed the reference to cigarette cards in The Light Years but I will next time I read the Cazalets. By coincidence I have just finished listening to the life of Elizabeth Jane Howard by Artemis Cooper read by Eleanor Bron on Audible. Next someone will mention Green Shield Stamps!!

  3. ambler1 says:

    Thank you for this very full write up of the event. I enjoyed it enormously and was pleased to have such interesting company – though I hadn’t realised that Miladysboudoir was present. The Wills Cigarette Cards Famous British Authors of 1937 series was, I think, unusual in celebrating authors rather than sports or film stars. It was never repeated (unlike films start series which were often updated year by year with rising stars), so not sure how much it caught on. Still for one year at least British writers were treated like film stars. We might do a follow-up event next year at Sheffield Hallam looking at some more of the authors featured on the cards.

    • Hello, again, Professor Hopkins. Thank you for your kind comment here and thank you also for the fascinating afternoon at Sheffield Hallam and your follow-up email earlier this week. I’ve been busy this week but I intended to send a link to my little post but you beat me to it. I’ll be looking out for more of your 20th century reading events. Barbara

  4. […] of fiction is also available.” In the antique mall opposite us I picked up a full set of the Famous British Authors cigarette cards for a bargain price! There was also a very decent selection of secondhand books […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.