These lovely cards were issued between 1909 and 1911 by Cope Bros & Co. Ltd of Liverpool and London and, fittingly for a Liverpool/London based company, the first two teams out of the bag were the Merseysiders, Everton and Liverpool. If you ever come across these cards or, indeed, you are a collector of them, you will have noticed in many cases just how poor the condition can be; this would seem to be down to not just age, but also the fact that the cards are so very, very flimsy. They are probably about one third the thickness of other cigarette cards of the day – one cannot imagine them providing much in the way of support for the cigarettes themselves, one of the original reasons for cards such as these being inserted into packets.
In total there were nominally 471 cards in all split over three different issues.
- Issue 1 (1909) – “Portraits of some of the most prominent Players of the principal Teams, the complete series consisting of 120 pictures”.
- Issue 2 (1910) – “Portraits of some of the most prominent Players of the principal Teams, the complete series consisting of 282 pictures”.
- Issue 3 (1911) – “Portraits of some of the most prominent Players of the principal Teams, the complete series consisting of nearly 500 pictures”.
My evidence for the third series of “nearly 500 pictures” being printed in 1911 is the presence of card 409. Henry Hamilton as a Southampton player but in Huddersfield Town colours – Hamilton was still playing for Huddersfield in early 1911 and didn’t move to the Dell until summer of that year. There will undoubtedly be other examples to prove this date, but at the moment that’s the only one that I am aware of.
But there were discrepancies/anomalies…
- In the first issue of “120 pictures” there is a team representing Merthyr which shows players from the rugby team, but by the time of the third issue – “nearly 500 pictures” – the team name had changed to “Merthyr Town” and the original players had been replaced by those representing the soccer team. There are therefore two players for each card numbered 55 to 63.
- Card number 12 showing Chorlton of Liverpool also appears as “12. Chorlton, J. (Liverpool)”
- Card 158 has a few issues too… It shows “Anltezack” on the front, “Antlezack” on the back but should, in fact, be “Anlezark“. Arthur Anlezark was an Australian rugby player who played for Oldham between 1909 and 1914.
- Two cards feature two different players over different issues: “Garbutt (Blackburn Rovers)” appears on card 21 in the “120 pictures” first issue, but by the time of the third issue – “nearly 500 pictures” – he has been replaced by “Simpson (Blackburn Rovers)”. Also “McCabe (Oldham)” appears on card 165 in the “282 pictures” issue, whilst “Lomas (Oldham)” is portrayed on card 165 in the “nearly 500 pictures” issue.
- Card 181 appears as “Johnson, J.H. (Clapton Orient)” in the series “282 pictures” and simply “Johnson, J. (Clapton Orient)” in the “nearly 500 pictures” series.
- The second issue of “282 pictures” does not include the Derby County team set of cards 274 to 282 meaning that this set actually ends at 273, not 282. Derby County is present, but only in the third issue of “nearly 500 pictures”.
- Still with Derby County, card 275. Barbour, seems to be the only card in the set where the surname is written using lower case lettering – I wonder why?
- The entire Middlesbrough team – 337 to 345 – is mis-spelled as “Middlesborough” throughout.
- There are also several cards where the name on the front is missing an initial which subsequently appears on the back.
- There is a single card with no number and the back is distinctly different – “Wee Jock Simpson” (Blackburn Rovers) has an entire biography on the back and none of the usual details as to the numbers of other players in the Blackburn team. This card is thought to be part of the third (1911) issue.
- By the time of the 1911 third issue reprinted series it would seem that the printers had trimmed the series without ever announcing it. Collectors will have noted that cards 100, 110 and 120 are impossible to find in this “nearly 500 pictures” back series – why? Well, in the original “120 pictures” issue these were the final cards in the three teams to have ten cards in them – Llanelly, Neath and Ton Pentre – rather than what seems to have been the standard nine cards. So this brought those anomalies into line although it was never made known officially. In other words, don’t bother looking for them in this issue.
- In addition, the cards themselves appeared in various shades of blue/green (I’m colour-blind; forgive me!)
- And then there are the obligatory valuable/hard-to-find cards… As well as the aforementioned Wee Jock Simpson card, the two other much sought after cards are the footballing giants Steve Bloomer of Derby County and Billy Meredith of Manchester United; prices for these cards can be quite astronomical.