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School Holidays, early-mid 20th Century

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Collecting sets of things: a children's hobby of bygone times

By the webmaster’s mother, 1906-2002

Most children made collections of things that they would keep in a box or a book of some sort. Where I lived on the Huxley Estate in Edmonton, none of these collections ever cost us children anything because we didn't have any money to speak of. We collected things that were free, that were cast-offs or could be picked up around the countryside, like conkers and coloured stones. I once won a prize at school for a wild flower collection.

Early 1900s cigarette packets Players Navy Cut, Craven A and 
Woodbine.

Early 1900s cigarette packets Players Navy Cut, Craven A and Woodbine.

Collecting cigarette cards

A firm favourite for collecting was cigarette cards. Cigarette manufacturers, notably Players and Wills put a card in each packet of their cigarettes showing a picture on one side and descriptive information on the other side.

Note from the webmaster

Examples of cigarette cards

There are examples of later cigarette cards on the page about preparations for the Second World War.

Smoking was common among the men, so it wasn't difficult for children to find someone to save cigarette cards for them. Often, though, the same cigarette card would keep appearing whereas some hardly ever seemed to. This led to swapping of cards which was another spirited and enjoyable activity for children.

Special albums for the collection could be bought from tobacconists for a penny. Filled ones have become collectors' items.

Cigarette cards were produced in themes such as trains, flowers, sportsmen, etc. Children would aim to collect a complete set on a particular theme so that they could complete an album.

Thumbnail image of the front cover of a late 1930s UK cigarette card album put up by Players Cigarettes, costing one penny and with the theme of Kings and Queens of England 1066-1935

Sample of a cigarette card album front cover from the 1930s put up by Players Cigarettes and costing one penny. Tap/click for a larger, legible image.

double page spread of a 1930s cigarette card album put up by Players Cigarettes with the theme of English kings and queens 1066-1939.

Sample of a cigarette card album - double page spread inside. Photographed in The West Somerset Rural Life Museum. Tap/click for a larger, legible image.

On the back of the cigarette cards was information about the topic illustrated on the front. This was usually very informative and it was repeated in the album close to the space for the card.

Collecting postage stamps

Other favourite for collecting was postage stamps. It was common practice to waylay anyone who received a letter or parcel, particularly if it was from overseas, to request the postage stamp.

Page from a stamp album

Page from a stamp album

The stamp was carefully torn round with its backing paper still attached and then soaked in water to dissolve the glue. The paper backing then just floated off the stamp. The stamp was allowed to dry and then stuck into a special book or album with a a small, transparent piece of paper coated with a mild gum. This was called a stamp hinge.

Children were often very proud of their stamp albums and would spend hours looking at them with other children and swapping duplicates. Whenever family or friends received a letter from overseas, they were always instructed to keep the stamp for someone or other.

Collecting bible stamps

Not unlike cigarette cards, from a collector's point of view, were Sunday School stamps on biblical themes - see Sunday Schools.

Collecting marbles

Marble collections were also common because boys played them outside with other boys as street games.


If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.


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