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Published February 24, 2023 Updated June 08, 2024

74: The Wills/Waddington gift scheme

The scheme to promote playing cards as gifts by means of inserts in Wills' cigarette packets apparently saved Waddington from their financial problems in 1931. Here are some details of the cards involved.

1932 United Kingdom Mardon Tobacco Wills Add to Collection

There is another article on this site dealing with the Wills scheme run by Waddington from 1932-34. However, John Berry, in his book on the Waddington Archive, gives details of the back designs, their makers and the numbers of packs produced from a production list that he found there. There are omissions, as he could only work with what was held in the Archive, but I thought it was worthwhile putting together as much detail as possible with illustrations of the cards involved.

Below is an example of an order form used by Waddington, as held in the Archive.

The inserts

These were made by both Waddington and by the printing division of Imperial Tobacco, Mardon, Son & Hall. Some were numbered on the backs and some were specific to a particular brand of cigarette, e.g. Star.

Waddington print for Star cigarettes, numbered, on pink, produced at their Keighley factory from February 1932. Referred to as Tom Thumb. The total number of insert single cards produced was 425 million.

Mardon, Son & Hall production, blue backs, numbered. This example has an overprint on the back in red announcing the end date of the scheme: 28th February 1934. The total number of inserts made is given in John Berry's book as 1,200 million from a history of Wills, so the rest must have been made by Mardon.

The full-size packs

Some of these are identifiable, whereas others are missing from the Archive, so a bit of detective work is needed. Also, some of the packs are from the makers' ordinary output, rather than being made specifically for the scheme. There are three categories of gift: patience sets, bézique sets and full packs (both single and double boxes), so I'll look at them separately. As far as I can tell, Mardon, Son & Hall packs were only produced for the scheme and never sold over the counter to the general public (unless there were surplus packs at the end of the scheme).

Patience sets:

These are either by Mardon or De La Rue/Goodall. They seem to have no design reference numbers. Of the examples below the top row were produced by Mardon, the bottom row by De La Rue with Goodall ASs. The junk design was used well after the end of the scheme, even in the post-war period with Waddington courts.

Bézique sets:

These also seem to have been produced by Mardon or De La Rue/Goodall, in the latter case using packs from their normal range.

Three examples by De La Rue; note that the top ace is anonymous, whereas the middle one is De La Rue's and the bottom one is Goodall's. The top one is from a print run with the 8S upside-down (three over five).

Full packs:

These were provided initially by Waddington, but it became increasingly obvious that demand outstripped the capacity of one firm. As early as 1932 both De La Rue and Universal were invited to join in and produce some of the packs. Then Mardon produced their own packs to complement the output. In the list below I have given the reference numbers used in the ordering process that are to be found in the Waddington Archive. The suffix letters indicate colour variants of the design. Some are not related to an identifiable design either because John Berry doesn't give an illustration or even a verbal description of it or there is no example in the Archive, but one or two can be identified from other sources and the reference number assumed. I have also given the number of each pack ordered as given in the records, some of which had repeat orders. Given the overall numbers of packs involved, it isn't surprising that we still see plenty of them today, even in an unused state.

All the packs below are by Waddington unless otherwise stated. The Waddington packs are of one of two types: the cheaper grade printed at Keighley by photogravure in black and gold or silver with the associated courts, and the more expensive packs printed in Leeds with a different set of courts. The latter seem to have worn quite quickly, presumably because of the large number of packs being produced, so two slightly different versions of the courts can be discerned. It's quite possible that extreme wear on these plates led to the introduction of a redrawn set of courts some time around 1935, which were used in more expensive packs, but not in the Wills scheme.

W5 courts from Keighley

W2.1 courts from Leeds

W2.11 worn plates, which may have been retouched; in particular, the collar of the JH is the same both ends with small green squares, unlike in W2.1, where there is an elongated bar at one end.

The edges were usually gold or silver, but occasionally mixed colouring was used, e.g. gold and green, or silver and blue.

1001A/E: 50,000 each


1002A: 50,000

1002B: 50,000


1003A: 75,000

1003I: 25,000

1004A/C/D: 50,000 each

1004E: 15,000


1005C/D/E: 50,000 A possible candidate for this design, plus box.

1006B/D: 50,000

Box for 1007A

Box for 1007C

1007A/C: 50,000

1008A & B: 70,000

1009A & B: 50,000

1010A & B: 50,000



1011A/B: 50,000 each. These are possible candidates for the design, given the descriptions of the colour schemes in John Berry's list. In the lower example, which was originally unopened, the AS and AC have been packed upside-down, though the back seems to be double-ended, i.e. has no right way up.

1011C/D: 60,000 each. These are both described as being red + gold on yellow, with different coloured boxes in each case.

1012A/B: 50,000 each



1013A: 50,000 by De La Rue

1013B: 50,000


1014A: 100,000

1014B: 100,000. Note that the example above is from the Ascot series, which was introduced into Waddington's normal range in July 1933. I don't know whether the 100,000 given in the orders for Wills includes packs destined for the Ascot series as well.



1015B, earlier version with no frame

1015A: 100,000

1015B: 100,000


1016A: 50,000

1016B: 50,000. The image above is a possible candidate for the correct design; A is the green and gold version.

1016D/E: 50,000 each, marked as by De La Rue; D is blue and gold, E red and gold.


1017A: 50,000 printed by Universal PCCo.

1017B: 50,000 printed by Waddington

1017D: 75,000 as A, but printed by Waddington on pink board.

1017E: 50,000 as B, but printed on blue board.



1018B: 84,500 by De La Rue

1018C: 88,000 by De La Rue. The above examples are likely candidates for this design.


1019D (later printing, 1934)

1019C: 118,000

1019D: 112,000. There was a slight colour change in the last order for these in February 1934, in which pink is replaced by white.


1020B: 50,000

1020C: 50,000

1021A/B: 50,000 each

1022A/B: 50,000 each. Designs 1021 and 1022 seem to be single-colour designs on white board printed at Keighley.

1025E: 60,000 by De La Rue

1025K: 45,000 by De La Rue

1027B/H: 50,000 each



1029B: 50,000 by Universal. Note the tax wrapper is a Waddington one, so they must have been packed at Waddington's factory.

1029G: 50,000 by Waddington at the Leeds factory. These are the designs referred to in the order above from 17th November 1932. The design is incorrectly described as "Chinese sampan" (a small boat with oars), whereas it is, in fact, a Chinese junk.

1035A/1036A: 100,000 each, both in four colours + silver


1037: 150,000

1038: 150,000 in full colour + white



1039: 185,000. Note the later joker, which may indicate that this example is from the second order from April 1934

1040: 185,000, the brown and blue butterfly design.

The following designs have no reference number.

Nell Gwynne

Nell Gwynne: 100,000

Charles II

Charles II: 100,000

Pheasant and Mallard

Pheasant: 85,000

Mallard: 85,000

There is one design that I can't attribute a number to yet. I know it in four colour schemes, which I can't align with any of the descriptions in John Berry's list from the Archive, and there are only two designs marked as being printed by Universal (Alf Cooke).

Other designs, by De La Rue/Goodall and Mardon, were used in the scheme, but no record of these appear to be included in the Waddington Archive. Most of the Mardon designs are well known and must have been produced in the same kind of quantities as those by Waddington. I give a few examples by each maker below.

De La Rue/Goodall

Mardon, Son & Hall

A few designs and the box used for single packs.


It's very difficult to tell whether Universal used other designs from their normal range. The design below is in a box also used by De La Rue, with a matching back stuck to it, which suggests the cards were used as gifts in the scheme, but they are not mentioned in John Berry's list. There's also a blue version.

I shall add more images, as and when I get them.

137 Articles

By Ken Lodge

Member since May 14, 2012

​I'm Ken Lodge and have been collecting playing cards since I was about eighteen months old (1945). I am also a trained academic, so I can observe and analyze reasonably well. I've applied these analytical techniques over a long period of time to the study of playing cards and have managed to assemble a large amount of information about them, especially those of the standard English pattern. About Ken Lodge →


Alex Clays's Avatar'

Love this article! So difficult to tell the maker if you do not have a full deck.

Some of these backs came not only as full sized but also in patience size.

I believe the Geisha girls patience deck might have been made by Waddingtons as I have the deck wrapped in cellophane and with a golden seal, as required on the depicted letter.

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