Our Frequently Asked Questions present a range of the queries we receive. They cover enquiries on general collecting through to more specific topics such as buying cards and keeping them safe. Whether you are an experienced collector, or just starting out on your card-collecting journey, we hope they're useful! And if you have a query that's not answered below, or you have tips you'd like to share with other collectors, don't hesitate to contact us.

We would say no. It is impossible to buy every card ever issued - there are quite literally millions of them! They were issued with tobacco and with various products, all over the world, since the 19th century. We advise that you use your “starting out time” to just look at cards.

Online auctions like eBay might not be recommended for beginners, but they have huge sections devoted to cigarette and trade cards, most of which have a picture of the front and back of the card to look at. It costs nothing but time to look at these, you don’t need to sign up, or pay anything simply to browse.

This does not happen as much as you might think. It’s a bit like the old story of scratching your nose at a live auction and ending up with a huge bill on an item you didn’t like. The best advice we were ever given is to not sign in to an internet site if you are only browsing or researching. By doing this one simple thing, even if you do press bid, you will only get a prompt to sign in; your bid will not be accepted.

Please don’t ask us, because the best advice is to collect what appeals to you, not just what you feel will be worth money in the future, or what someone else tells you to buy, as if you have no interest in the subject you will quickly tire of collecting it. If you already collect items to do with say, cricket, or cats, then you will know what cards to start looking for. If not, just look down the pages; you will soon find out you are bypassing many cards, and stopping to look closer at others, and that is the first step into finding your specialist theme.

In this branch of collecting you simply stick to a theme. Let`s say cricket. You will probably start by looking at complete sets on the subject, but then you might find a general sporting set contains some tennis players, and a boxer, and a couple of cricketers, so instead of buying a whole set ask a dealer or fellow collector if they are splitting a set into “odds” or “types”.

A single card from a set is called an “odd” or a “type”, and if you collect them you are technically a “type collector”. Some people only collect “types”, and, given money, endless storage space, and time, it is possible to buy one card from every set ever issued. But it is a lengthy job and few come close; one who did was one of our former Presidents, Edward Wharton Tigar, quoted as the owner of “the largest cigarette card collection in the World” in The Guinness Book of Records. 

The best way is to look at as many cards as you can. We recommend before you buy any cards you should acquire a copy of a card price guide (e.g. Murray’s). At this point you don’t need a specialist reference book, you need a catalogue style guide which will show you a wide range of subjects, and issuers, and crucially every card is priced – as a collector there are few things worse than bidding on something and finding out later you’ve paid far too much! Even an out of date catalogue will show you which cards were more expensive than others, plus important information like how many cards make up each set; if there were first and second series, or other printings, so you don`t buy a “set” which is a marriage, that is a mixture of two sets or more; whether some sets are only priced as odd cards (which means they are very scarce, so must be worked towards a card or two at a time) or only priced as complete sets (which means it will be hard for you to get single cards if you buy a part set).

Most collectors, whatever they collect, will tell you that condition is the single most important thing to bear in mind when buying a collectable item. This is especially the case in easily damaged items like cards and other ephemera, and damage has a huge impact on both desirability and price. One thing we will say is that sellers who do not specialise in cards are less likely to realise how important condition is, so when you are starting out always look to buy from a specialist dealer rather than someone who sells many things but happens to include a few cards. Its also always best to see the cards in person at somewhere like a local collectors centre or market. We would not advise buying poor condition cards, as they will always stand out in your album and you will end up looking for a replacement. The only reason to buy a poor quality card is if a collector knows that a particular card is so scarce they may not see another in their lifetime. I own three very grubby torn cards that would have been bypassed had they not been issued by a branch of my own family.

Our official grading guide appears at https://csgb.co.uk/about/grading

This is an important decision, which should be considered before you buy your first card. Bear in mind that if you are going to build up a collection you will want to look at your cards from time to time without the risk of damaging them in any way. There are several options available to collectors:

  • old style cardboard albums either slip-in or corner slot. These are not ideal because the area of the card held in place by the album does dent over time, or become discoloured. If you read postcard descriptions online you will have come across the phrase “with corner-slot marks”

  • loose in vintage cigarette packets. This was another old style solution, and it does have an olde worlde charm. However once you start to amass a few boxes you start running out of storage. Also to view the cards you have to physically handle them and if you do this a lot you run the risk of chipping the edges or creasing the end cards. That is why the end cards of vintage sets cost more!

  • stick-in albums issued by the company itself. Most of us will remember being at school and sticking the cards on their blank places; this way of storing cards has been going on from the start, but was especially common in the 1920s and 30s. Indeed many cards of that time were issued with gum already on the backs and these are known as “sticky backs”. And the stick in album still persists with modern film and sports related issues though. Collectors prefer the album to be unused and the cards still loose. However if you find them pleasing, do not disregard them, just do not pay too much. They are the one thing most likely to be overpriced at non specialist fairs and markets. The true value is but a couple of pounds an album and some collectors still would not give them house room. Saying that, I had one of Players “Modern Naval Craft” where the wreath between the cards had been pencilled in with a sad face if all the craft on that page had been sunk.

  • modern ring binder style albums with removable pages of clear plastic. These were not popular when first brought out as they were found to remove the colour from the card. However if you buy them new from a reputable dealer they will not do that as these days the pages are made from archival safe plastic. This method allows you to leaf through an album and enjoy both sides of the cards in your collection. It also allows you to buy different sized leaves for non-standard sized cards and be able to store them together within the same plastic album. Of course you must still be very careful inserting and removing cards from sleeves to avoid chipping the edges or bottom corners but once in sleeves your cards will be stored safely and enjoyed for years to come.

  • ‘Penny’ Sleeves and Toploaders – These are more common in America but are growing in popularity over here because you can actually have a special card on view standing up on your desk.  They mainly let you store your card with less risk of damaging the edges or corners. The thin plastic form fits into a plastic toploader for added protection and then you can extract it later. This is mainly for the modern cards such as Pokemon and Match Attax but if you have a lot of cards be aware that they are not very easy to look through or to find a certain card quickly

You may think us boastful to say our own Auctions, but why not. The Society holds six auctions a year made up of members` surplus material, most of which is new to the market and expertly graded by our own auctioneer. Our catalogues are published free of charge on this website, and after a small interval the prices that they sold for are added.

We also hold auctions at several of our local branches around the UK, as part of their regular meetings. These branch meetings are also a place to talk face to face with local collectors who can pass on local knowledge; places to pick up cards, and ones to avoid. The dates of these are listed at https://csgb.co.uk/house-of-cards/events

Other sources are:

  • Specialist Card Auctions – like our advertisers, Loddon, Lockdales, Tim Davidson’s – The benefit of these auctions is that they sell many cards in a year so are equally as familiar with grading and often use our standards; that gives you the confidence that what you’re bidding on is as described. Don’t forget though that on top of the hammer price you’ll have to pay a buyer’s premium (15% to 30% of the hammer price) VAT, and postage and packaging! We list several auctions on our home page as the date of the sale approaches.

  • General auctions – these often have tins or boxes of cards in varying condition. They are worth looking through, but don’t be tempted to pay more than a few pounds for curiosity value as it is not likely they will contain any rarities. However it is worthwhile having a chat and introducing yourself to a friendly porter as they might know a card collector in the area who is selling up, or one who stalls out at local markets (they may even do so themselves).

  • Card Fairs – We list these at https://csgb.co.uk/house-of-cards/events too, and sometimes on our front page.

Many experienced collectors look online every day to see what is being listed but as a beginner it can be a risky business. We would recommend the methods listed above as they aren’t as risky but as you become more experienced the internet can often yield some great cards at great prices. Some quick tips for internet bidding if this is something you want to look into:

  • Check the feedback rating. 100% positive means they have had no problems, but also check how many sales they have had (the number beside their name).

  • See what else they are currently selling or have sold before (completed listings on the side menu). If there are a lot of cards listed, they are more likely to know about cards than if they have sold mostly household goods and this is the only card on sale

  • Check both sides on the picture. The back is just as important as the front of the card (in some cases more important!) – if they haven’t scanned a picture of the back, just contact the seller and ask for one. Also if a card looks grubby and they have listed it as excellent condition don’t just take their word for it, ask for a better picture. I always ask a simple question if the seller is not known to me; this is a good test, because if a seller does not reply to a question, they may not reply if there are any problems after the sale. Some sellers add pictures further down the listing so always scroll to the very end. You can also in some cases enlarge the main picture, look out for “mouse to enlarge”.

  • Really look at the edges and corners of the card and go with your instincts – if they don’t look quite square to you, 9 times out of 10 when it does arrive it’ll have been trimmed with scissors. There are few things that’ll devalue a card more, so when parting with large sums of money this is worth checking.