History of the cards

Perhaps the most difficult of all aspects of these cards – apart from actually trying to collect them all! – is to verify their dates of issue. As all collectors know, there are FIVE different varieties of ‘back’ and several players appear for more than one team which clearly points to the fact that they were issued over several years and so an interest in dates of player transfers obviously comes into play here. I am therefore indebted to fellow collector and enthusiast Derek Jenkins who has already researched this subject and published his findings into ‘The First Four Hundred’ in two articles in Cartophilic Notes and News magazine in 1999 which I intend to use as the basis of this section of the website. It should also be pointed out at this juncture that, for the purposes of conciseness and ‘readability’,  I shall not be using quote marks as I liberally use chunks from those two articles, together with Derek’s own notes sent to me with further information.

So – are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin …

Black OvalFirstly, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the first ever Pinnace cards were issued in the summer of 1920 in preparation for the upcoming 1920-21 season. Issued in packs of ten cigarettes (two cards in boxes of twenty cigarettes) the first set was the ‘black oval’ back variety and the design on the back clearly indicates that there was to be  a limited number and this would primarily cover players with clubs in the English and Scottish Football Leagues as they stood at the end of the previous season. At that time, the English League consisted of three divisions of 22 clubs each, having been extended by the incorporation of the old Southern League as the Third Division. The Scottish League consisted of one division of 22 clubs.

The general idea was, apparently, to issue four cards for each club, making 352 in total, with the balance coming from cards showing players in the ‘Northern Union’ (rugby), but it did not quite work out like this, as will be seen later.

The first eight cards reflected the recently played FA Cup Final between Aston Villa and Huddersfield Town; four Villa players, and four from Town.


The pictures of the Aston Villa players are taken from a team photograph of them as Cup Holders and, in fact, there are other pictures taken from team photographs (Burnley, for example, have many from an October 1914 photograph) presumably because there had not been time to take all the individual photos prior to the issue possibly because of the close proximity to the end of The Great War. Also of interest is the fact that card number 1 in this set (black oval) shows an incorrect initial in that C.W. Wallace of Aston Villa is shown as G.W. Wallace; as Charlie Wallace had gained three England caps, two Cup Winners’ medals and one Championship medal it may well be that this qualifies as a “Cartophilic Clanger”, particularly as it was not corrected for quite a while, by which time he had moved to another club!

The run of ‘four players per team’ continues until we get to number 316, by which time the whole of the Scottish League is represented, whilst the English clubs show players from 20 First, 22 Second and 15 Third Division teams. The sequence is broken by Newport having only three players, the series being evened up by number 316 coming from Wigan NU. The ‘four per club’ sequence is then seemingly abandoned although by number 352 all of the clubs in both Leagues are now included. The allocation of the cards making up the first 400 therefore is as follows:-

85 clubs with four players each = 340

2 clubs with three players (Southend & Newport) = 6

1 club with one player (Norwich) =1

Clubs with an extra player (PNE & Oldham) = 2

Clubs with two extra (Rangers, Queens Park, Celtic, Dundee, Morton, Hearts, Bury) = 14

1 from Dunfermline, a club outside the Scottish League = 1

Players from the Northern Union (rugby) = 36

… making a total of 400 cards.

0382It is interesting that a player from outside the two Leagues is included, i.e. from Dunfermline, but as the player in question, 382. Andy Wilson, was a current Scottish International it is, however, hardly surprising. By the time that a later series was issued, Wilson had moved on south of the border to join English Second Division side Middlesbrough. As for Dunfermline themselves, the club was admitted as a member upon the formation of the Scottish Second Division in 1921-22).

 At the same time Brown Ovalas the black oval cards were issued, a similar series numbered 1 to 112 appeared with exactly the same ornate back, although this time coloured brown instead of black. These brown oval’ backs  also make reference to 400 cards although it would appear that only 112 were ever issued, perhaps because the address on the back refers to 112 Commercial Street? These brown oval backs are a bit of a mystery, simply because they don’t cover anywhere near the amount of cards that they were intended to. It is possible that they were issued or handed out as a promotion, but at the moment there seems to be no way of confirming this supposition.

Double lineThe ‘oval back’ series as a whole was a great success and the issue must have ended before June 1922 as the NU changed its name to the RFL on that date and there are none of the latter in the series. There then began a new issue with a completely different ‘double-lined’ back but with the same gift (more of which later). Interestingly, many of the black oval cards were not duplicated. Commencement of this issue was probably around January 1921 as number 5. Sammy Taylor moved from Huddersfield to Sheffield Wednesday at that time. It is also possible that the issue was very short-lived because number 2. Andy Ducat’s transfer from Villa to Fulham in May 1921 was not reflected in this particular series.

Photo backWe now come to what is known as the ‘Photo’ back series which are numbered 1-1109 but of which not many numbers were actually issued. Card number 1. G. Wallace was transferred from Villa to Oldham in May 1921 and, as he was a popular player at that time it seems entirely possible that this series commenced soon after that date. It also shows Ducat at Fulham only (and not Villa), so it is likely that they were issued for the 1921-22 season.

Not only were the backs changed, but also the prizes. In addition to the exchange of 25 cards for a cabinet size card of a player, that of a cricketer could now be obtained. Not only that, but for 100 cards a large photo of a League Team could be obtained.  One has to wonder here if the offer of exchanging 100 smaller cards for one – albeit larger – card would appeal to any 1920s schoolboy! This could be the reason as to why there are so few ‘Team Cards’ around.

Pinnace backAlso issued perhaps part-way through the 1920-21 season and at the same time as the ‘Photo’ back cards, was the series mentioning “Pinnace” on the back, known quite obviously as the ‘Pinnace’ back issue. Perhaps the most interesting fact about these cards is that they were the first ones to actually mention the ‘Pinnace’ brand name, something which leads Derek to strongly believe that they were also the first to actually be issued in that particular brand of Phillips’ cigarettes, all previous issues being given away in their other types of cigarettes. Again different prizes were offered but with different conditions and this is most important. To obtain a photograph of a footballer or a cricketer one had to send 25 perfectly clean ‘Pinnace’ cigarette photos. In exchange for 100 cards one could obtain “a group of any one of the League Teams in the series”.

As for the ‘Pinnace’ back series being issued for the 1920-21 season (probably beginning in 1921) I can add that the way it covers Huddersfield Town players reflects the issue being spread over the years 1921 and 1923. Of the players who appear for Town in this particular series: 704. Jack Swann moved to Leeds United in November 1921 (and he also appears in this series as a Leeds player); 416. David Steele and 758. Joe Walter didn’t join Town until May 1922; 6. Fred Bullock retired in July 1922 and Sandy Mutch moved to Newcastle in that same month (and appears on cards for them); James Wood moved to Blackpool in October 1922 and also appears as their player in this series; finally Charlie Wilson arrived from Tottenham in November 1922 and appears on cards for both sides, suggesting that there was also either a late 1922 or – more likely – an early 1923 print-run.

Derek has sent me the following photocopies (and here I must apologise as the images are scans of photocopies and all the problems that arise therein) which would seem to back up his theory. The first is a page from the 1921-22 ‘Daily News Football Annual’ which was sold in the summer of 1921, prior to the start of that season. Note that it refers to “over 800 cards”

1921 Daily NewsThe next item is an advertisement from ‘The Picturegoer’ magazine dated June 1922 which is self-explanatory. The cards peeping out of the top of the box are numbers 80 and 516.

1922 PictureGoerAnd finally a page from the football programme of the game between Aston Villa and Burnley Reserves, played on 29th January 1921, which is a little difficult to read, but actually says “Cash prizes totalling £900 will be given for grouping teams corresponding to, or nearest to, those selected by the Editor of the “Athletic News” to represent the International Teams for England, Scotland and Wales respectively; the list of the selected teams has been deposited with the Company’s Bankers.”

1921 Villa programmeTo win the competition, boys would have inserted their cards into the sheets (see below) that they would buy from the newsagent at 2d each.

img785Seems like a silly way to give away eleven of your best cards, if you ask me!

As to how long the ‘Pinnace’ back issue lasted is unknown, but it is more than likely that they were still being issued well into 1923 and 1924.

Derek also concludes “that there is sufficient evidence that only the cards issued with ‘Pinnace’ on the back were specifically given away in packets of ‘Pinnace’ Navy Cut cigarettes, whilst the remainder were possibly given away in other Phillips’ brands. It would appear that the cards were used to spearhead a campaign for a specific brand following on from the popularity of the small cards previously issued with other brands; I am, of course, prepared to be proved wrong!”

So there we have it, or at least as far as anyone can prove/surmise. The varieties of picture size, shading, number position and size are all related to the type of back that an individual card has although I am also informed that cards were printed in more than one factory, thus creating some of the aforementioned differences.

If you know of any more about the history of these amazing little cards, please get in touch and I’ll amend this article as an on-going work in progress! 🙂