Sunday, 19 May 2013

Mardon Son & Hall Playing Cards 

The Wills Tobacco Promotion of 1933

Tobacco companies have been issuing insert cards since 1875 and collecting cigarette cards is a popular hobby. Some companies have issued cigarette cards that look like miniature playing cards or with playing card indices on them, several depicting 'beauties of the day'. But in 1933 WD & HO Wills, one of the founding companies of Imperial Tobacco, came up with a special promotion.

A full size joker with a sample of the miniatures
 The insert cards were indeed miniature playing cards, but when a full set was collected this could be exchanged for 'proper' playing cards. Two miniature cards were inserted into cigarette packs. They were one quarter the size of a standard narrow playing card. There were minor variations to faces and backs and the last ones had the closing date overprinted.

It was a hugely successful promotion offering patience or bridge size and single or double or bezique sets. The little red  booklets are always dated 1933. Originally the cards were produced by Goodall (owned by De La Rue) and Waddington, but Mardon Son & Hall a Bristol printing and packaging company making boxes for Wills began making the playing cards specifically for this promotion.

Mardon Son & Hall with anonymous Ace, the Spade courts and a joker. 2 or 4 indices

The success of the promotion can be gauged by the number of decks which turn up all the time and surprisingly many have never been opened. It is not unusual to find them in the original posting box. Playing cards at that time (and until August 1960) were subject to a duty of 3d per pack and always sealed inside a blue tax wrapper. The name of the manufacturer is often found on the side panel, but not always, and the easily recognized Mardon boxes which are as fussy as their Ace of Spades design do not carry any manufacturer information. The Mardon designs were usually issued in pairs, some of the frequently seen (bridge size) examples are illustrated below. Although these cards seem to be fairly common (I have just bought two decks sealed in their tax wrappers on ebay for a few pounds each) I suspect they will become more scarce as they were only produced for a very limited period.

A Mardon box and duty sealed deck of cards with the rare inscription on the duty wrapper. Incidentally 'Linen finish' simply refers to a paper finishing looking slightly like material, the cards are made of layers of paper.



  1. Great blog Peter....will check back for updates. I will check here first before I email you hehehehe...

  2. Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.
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  3. Hello,

    Amazing post, good to know about these cards. Thanks for sharing such a good post.

  4. An excellent blog; just what I had been looking for. I have collected several of the items which W.D. & H.O.Wills offered for various numbers of packs of miniature cards (so far 4 of 7), one of which included a miniature booklet with details of the various offers available. Two questions: Do you know for how long the whole offer was open? and Do you know who made, for example, the cantilevered bridge box? Was it the card companies themselves, or did they farm it out to others?