And now a correction, because we have had an email from Ian Irvine saying that the Smith's card was not the earliest cartophilic portrait of Miss Mary Pickford, for she appears in Major Drapkin's "Cinematograph Actors".
He is, of course, correct. And according to another reader, these were the very first series of film star cards ever issued.
They are slightly larger than the standard size and you can find a list of all the stars in our handbook. However, whilst some of the stars on these cards may still bring to you a flutter of recognition, whilst others are as lost to most of us as many, if not all of the film stock which once contained their immortal performances. Most cards have the company logo, and most stars, fourteen, were under contract to Essanay, a studio specialising in Western themes. Though he will not hear me, I thank former cartophilist J. W. Chaney, whose excellent article on these cards appeared in The London Cigarette Card Company's "Cigarette Card News" magazine, vol.21, no.242 in September/October 1955. He and I agree that most are American stars, but suggests that is simply because most films shown at that time were American. Just thirteen are British, and six are French, all these being under contract to Pathe Freres of Paris, an important name in British film as they have the honour of providing the films for the first ever film show in England, which took place in Balham, in 1907.
Eleven of the other cards have no film company logo, but Mr. Chaney tells us, all these belonged to Barker's Motion Photoplay, who had a very good year in 1913, releasing "East Lynne", "Sixty Years a Queen", "London by Night" and "The Great Bank Robbery".
And the other two British stars were from the British and Colonial Kinematograph Co. (luckily this is usually shortened to B & C). The film companies are pretty much all American or British, the sole other is Pathe Freres of Paris, France who are represented by 6 cards.
As this set was made before the rise of the star system you get some familiar faces but unfamiliar names; Muriel Fortescue, who would find lasting fame as Mabel Normand, Daphne Wayne, who was actually Blanche Sweet, and Lt. Darling R. N., which should have read Lt. Daring, though this too was incorrect as he was not in the Navy at all, and in fact Lieutenant Daring did not exist, he was an actor, called Percy Moran, who Mr Chaney tells us had been in other films, even playing the lead in "The Adventures of Dick Turpin".
There is even a most unusual card, of Jean the Vitagraph Dog, a border collie, who was the first cinematic canine.
One curious question is why 96 cards not 100? There can be no doubt of the intent though as the backs clearly state "a series of 96 Subjects".
In 1955 London Cigarette Card Company were retailing these as odds for three shillings a card.
The reverses of the cards contain not a hint of biography of any of the stars; they all read as follows:
a series of 96 Subjects.
The Cinematograph which has leapt into prominence as one of the wonders of the Modern World, is a development of the Zoetrope or "Wheel of Life," described by W. G. Homes about 1833. It's story is a rapid romance. Improvements of this early form of living picture were made by E. Maybridge [sic. It was Muybridge] in 1877, and E. J. Marey of Paris, in 1883, and it was the latter who rendered the modern cinematograph possible by his invention of the celluloid roll film in 1890, Edison, the great American inventor, afterwards doing much to perfect the idea.
Major Drapkin & Co.,
Cigarette Specialists, London
Branch of the United Tobacco Co., Ltd.,
By arrangement with the
Tress Kinema Supplies
Mr. Chaney wrote that he had been unable to find out who the Tress Kinema Supplies were, but undoubtedly their permission had to be obtained before the cards could be issued. He felt that the series, "although not qualifying as a first-class production, is quite good in its way".
I have done a bit of searching into Tress Kinema Supplies and I have been able to find out that a "Tress Co" was located at 4 Rathbone Place in Marylebone, West London. They were listed in trade guides of the time as manufacturing, selling, and supplying cinema equipment and electrical goods. These included exterior items like display frames for posters, ticket issuing machines under the brand name of "The Reliable", and interior fittings including carbons, lanterns, slides and spare parts, and "The New Model T Projector", not sure how Henry Ford felt about that. They also dealt in musical intruments which is a line I will now pursue though it could just have been the patent class for their Bio-Orchestron, a mixture of an organ, zither and piano. More intriguingly is the fact that they also offered "promotion".
Anyway this, like all these A-Z blogs, will be continued. Hold on whilst I change the reel.