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Hard-a-Port

Tobacco insert cards were a very successful marketing innovation which started in the nineteenth century.

“Hard-a-Port”

Tobacco Insert Playing Cards

Above: “Hard-a-Port Cut Plug” tobacco insert playing cards published by MacLin-Zimmer-McGill (USA) c.1890, featuring a selection of beautiful actresses from a past era, in poses some might consider risqué. This set of designs was used in around six different editions with various backs advertising “Hard-a-Port Cut Plug” and/or “Trumps Long Cut” chewing tobacco. They were originally produced by Moore and Calvi, then by their successors MacLin and Zimmer and Maclin-Zimmer-McGill in around the 1890s.

Above: the Joker and two back designs advertising “Hard-a-Port Cut Plug” and/or “Trumps Long Cut” chewing tobacco Click to zoom

Collectible insert cards were a marketing innovation which started in the nineteenth century. Most of us will be familiar with these from our own childhood. Subjects varied from theatre or cinema stars and actors or statesmen, to animals, butterflies or birds, aircraft, garden flowers or playing cards. Cards were included inside tobacco products, chewing gum, tea, chocolate, match boxes, magazines, etc. In some cases they were not necessarily aimed at children but were aimed at the collecting urge in the average person.

The “Hard-a-Port Cut Plug” series depicts actresses with angelic faces dressed for the pantomime or dance hall. The costumes mostly have a playing card theme, and the court cards wear crowns or hold swords or other symbols of office. The Aces and numeral cards have the suit symbols superimposed over the costumes. Plug tobacco is a form of loose leaf tobacco made for chewing. Chewing tobacco was the most prevalent form of tobacco used in the United States until it was overtaken by cigarette smoking in the early 20th century.

Risqué Beauties of the Theatre

The pin-up girls from the “Hard-a-Port” set were re-published in 2003 by F.G. & Co., a company owned by Gianna Majzler and Darren Calkins.

Risqué Beauties of the Theatre published in 2003 by F.G. & Co Risqué Beauties of the Theatre published in 2003 by F.G. & Co Risqué Beauties of the Theatre published in 2003 by F.G. & Co Risqué Beauties of the Theatre published in 2003 by F.G. & Co

Above: selection from "Risqué Beauties" taken from the "Hard-a-Port" set and re-published in 2003 by F.G. & Co. Images courtesy Rex Pitts.

See more insert playing cards: “El Perú” Fabrica de Cigarrillos, Lima c.1890Liebig Beef Extract playing cards c.1891Roldan & Cía tobacco insert cards, Peru c.1895Spanish Historical Characters, c.1896Carreras Fortune-Telling c.1926Mini-Naipes FUTBOL, Montevideo, c.1928Carreras Ltd Dominoes c.1929Bucktrout & Co. Ltd c.1930Baraja Hoja de Afeitar, Spain c.1938Chocolondo, UruguayNaipes de Truco, Argentina 1999

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By Rex Pitts (1940-2021)

Member since January 30, 2009

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Rex's main interest was in card games, because, he said, they were cheap and easy to get hold of in his early days of collecting. He is well known for his extensive knowledge of Pepys games and his book is on the bookshelves of many.

His other interest was non-standard playing cards. He also had collections of sheet music, music CDs, models of London buses, London Transport timetables and maps and other objects that intrigued him.

Rex had a chequered career at school. He was expelled twice, on one occasion for smoking! Despite this he trained as a radio engineer and worked for the BBC in the World Service.

Later he moved into sales and worked for a firm that made all kinds of packaging, a job he enjoyed until his retirement. He became an expert on boxes and would always investigate those that held his cards. He could always recognize a box made for Pepys, which were the same as those of Alf Cooke’s Universal Playing Card Company, who printed the card games. This interest changed into an ability to make and mend boxes, which he did with great dexterity. He loved this kind of handicraft work.

His dexterity of hand and eye soon led to his making card games of his own design. He spent hours and hours carefully cutting them out and colouring them by hand.


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