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.
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.