Irish Songs on Cigarette Cards, 1920s


In the 1870s, cigarette companies in the United States began to promote their product by inserting numbered collectible series of illustrated cards in cigarette packets. The cards typically carried a picture on the front and information about the picture on the back. Ironically from what we now know about the effects of tobacco, they often featured sportsmen, wildlife, and open-air beauty spots. A craze for collecting these cards began, which continues in a different form to this day (a single cigarette card has achieved over two million US dollars at auction).

Some fifty years later, in the 1920s and possibly from 1924, William Ruddell Ltd, a Dublin tobacco, cigar and snuff manufacturer with Liverpool connections which had been in business since the mid-19th century, issued two series of cigarette cards. They both had cultural associations which were meant to attract smokers and, again ironically, both were connected with singing. One was a series on grand opera and the other was entitled ‘Songs that will Live for Ever’. There were fifty cards in this latter series. At least some of the songs were Irish, and 15 of these Irish cards are presented here, each with a competent painting by an unknown artist which illustrates the song and is accompanied by a verse of the song on the reverse.

The Irish songs are mostly popular national songs by known mainly 19th-century songwriters – Andrew Cherry, Samuel Lover, Thomas Moore, Edmund Falconer, Lady Dufferin, E. Mordaunt Spencer, Alfred Percival Graves and Percy French. Their somewhat genteel character may have been part of the Ruddell company’s marketing strategy. Although all these songs had an early life on commercially issued song sheets, they have since entered and become part of the Irish oral tradition and belong to that large blurred area where Irish popular and Irish traditional song overlap.

Like the songs and the fame of the songwriters, but unlike singers who smoke, William Ruddell Ltd also may have a long life: it remains in existence as a subsidiary of the oldest Irish tobacco company, P.J. Carroll & Co, which is itself a subsidiary of British American Tobacco PLC. There is some evidence that the numbers missing here from the series may have been English rather than Irish songs: no 14 was 'The Bay of Biscay' and no 31 'Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep'. Further information on the missing numbers would be welcome.

Other musical cigarette cards from the ITMA collections are available here.

NC & TH, 1 August 2015

Irish Songs on Cigarette Cards, 1920s