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The Coupon War & Ogden's Presentation Plates

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    Gordon Howsden

    The Coupon War & Ogden’s Presentation Plates

    One of the more fascinating periods in the history of British tobacco manufacturers was the ‘Coupon War’. It is especially interesting to cartophilists as it had a profound effect on the issuing of cigarette cards. It is difficult to precisely date when coupon trading escalated to ‘war’ status as promotions, bonus schemes and the like had long been a feature of the competitive tobacco market. However, 1925 is a likely date as that is when Carreras started putting coupons in every packet of their Black Cat cigarettes.

    The largest tobacco manufacturer, the Imperial Tobacco Company, took note of this but decided to continue pursuing more traditional methods of competition. However, during the next few years other firms copied Carreras’s lead and in a fairly short time Godfrey Phillips, Gallaher and Wix (who at this stage were owned by American Tobacco) all started packing coupons with their cigarettes. By 1930 coupon brands accounted for 16% of the total market compared with just 4% in 1925. ITC had put their toe in the water of coupon trading through Ardath, which was jointly owned with BAT, but as is well known, the various ITC branches ultimately had to promote various special schemes in an attempt to maintain market share.

    The Wall Street crash of 1929, which eventually affected all the western economies , was the trigger for widespread unemployment and falling wages, so being able to obtain goods through coupon schemes was a boon to many households. Legions of small boys were disappointed when to help the family budget Dad switched his smoking brand to Kensitas, BDV or Black Cat, and the general supply of cigarette cards was substantially reduced.

    The sales of Wills cigarettes had been hard hit and they were the first to respond with their sectional card scheme in Gold Flake cigarettes. This was followed by the playing card scheme in 1932, through which1200 million miniature cards were eventually issued. On top of these there were Football, Cricket and Poster competitions which gave generous cash prizes. Some of these promotions were joint efforts with other branches, such as Player and Ogden, and required entrants to submit a certain number of empty cigarette packets.

    All these schemes are fairly well known, as are the competition-style card issues of Churchman, Lambert & Butler and Mitchell where the prizes were an underwhelming set of spoons from Churchman, or maps from the other two. One promotion that seems to have slipped under the radar, certainly mine, was run by Ogden’s where smokers could apply for one of a set of four Presentation Plates. It was David Thompson who brought this scheme to my attention when he was fortunate enough to acquire two framed prints featuring the racehorses “Forbra” and “April the Fifth”. I subsequently checked my CD of the CSGB Insert Listings and came across one from Ogden that almost certainly relates to the presentation plates, Sadly, neither David nor I have a copy so I can’t give the full wording.

    David has kindly provided illustrations of the two prints he has (see attachments) and above the picture of the horses the terms of the scheme are outlined, namely:

    “A copy of this picture free of advertisement, and suitable for framing, will be sent to anyone returning to the Manufacturers before 31st Oct 1933, Packets representing 1000 Ogden’s ROBIN cigarettes”

    The statement, “free of advertisement” suggests that David’s prints are not the Presentation Plates themselves. What he has are presumably advertisements for the scheme that would have been given to tobacconists for display in their shops.

    To have to submit packets representing 1000 cigarettes was a daunting but achievable. This compares to collecting a full set of 48 sectional cards in Wills’ Famous Picture scheme or packets representing 100 cigarettes to enter the Football Competition. Nevertheless, a ten a day man could be in a position to claim a print in just over three months and half that, of course, for a twenty a day smoker.

    The starting date for the promotion has not yet been identified but David spotted a number printed in the bottom corner of the prints, which seems to be the familiar “ITC Number” that appears on promotional material from about 1906 through to the 1970s. This is 8264 which would appear to date it to the last quarter of 1932. The scheme therefore probably ran for a minimum of ten months giving ample time for smokers to claim their prints.

    My own researches have revealed that in addition to the two racehorses mentioned above there was also available a Greyhound print and a Racing Pigeon print. The four plates were titled as follow:

    “FORBRA” Winner of the Grand National, 1932

    “APRIL THE FIFTH” Winner of The Derby, 1932

    “BEN TINTO” Winner of the Waterloo Cup, 1932

    “LITTLE MON” Winner (D Section) of the National Flying Club San Sebastian Race, 1932

    In addition to receiving one of the plates each applicant also received an accompanying “descriptive slip” giving full details of the subject and marked “With the compliments of Ogdens” (no apostrophe). The subjects chosen are not a surprise as the sports involved were very popular in Ogden’s stronghold of the North West. And, of course, they were very topical in view of each animals’ recent success in their chosen field.

    Ogden’s issued many series of cards devoted to racehorses and jockeys but perhaps surprisingly in their set of 50 cards titled Prominent Racehorses of 1933 neither Forbra nor April The Fifth appeared. It could be that the horses did not carry their form into the following season. But both did feature in Player’s Derby And Grand National Winners and are superbly depicted. Unlike the prints, they are pictured with the jockeys up. I will post illustrations of the cards so that they can be compared to the Ogden’s prints.

    Although Ogden’s issued a Racing Pigeon set and Greyhound sets neither of the subjects above were used. However, a Major Osman, who edited the Racing Pigeon set, did supply the photo of Little Mon on which the artwork for the presentation plate was based. The San Sebastian Race was considered the “Grand National” of pigeon racing and Little Mon flew 711 miles before claiming his victory. I cannot find a picture of him but, as luck would have it, there is a nice Pathe News clip of Ben Tinto available on the Internet under the title, “Blue Riband Of The Leash 1932”.

    As previously mentioned, the presentation plate offer was withdrawn on 31 October 1933 and as it happened it only narrowly preceded the end of the Coupon War. ITC’s various gift schemes and competitions had failed to stem their loss of market share so a decision was made to enter the coupon market. The brand chosen was Wills’ Four Aces which was launched in February 1933 on the back of a huge publicity campaign. It proved to be immensely popular and during its short life over 3 million Four Aces ‘gifts’ were sent out against redeemed coupons. However, the immense costs of coupon schemes eventually led to the six largest manufacturers getting together to sort out a compromise solution.

    The mind boggles at the thought of the heads of these tobacco giants, Ardath, Carreras, Gallaher, International Tobacco, Godfrey Phillips and Wix, sitting down with ITC, no doubt in a smoke filled room, to hammer out a mutually acceptable plan. The final arrangement, known as the Martin Agreement (it was administered by Martin’s Bank) led to coupon trading ending on 31 December 1933. ITC’s share of the market, which had fallen to around 65% during 1933 was back to nearly 80% by the end of 1934.

    So how did this agreement come about? Well, basically, ITC compensated those firms whose market share receded after coupons were banned. There was a pool established to which ITC contributed some £13 million over the life of the agreement. Gallaher, whose market share was boosted by the success of Senior Service, was the only other company who was also a net contributor.

    So, for the next six years cigarette cards once again came to the fore in the attempt to instil brand loyalty into fickle smokers. The cigarette series focusing on gifts, such as those of Churchman, Lambert & Butler and the Wills’ miniature card scheme, were suitably overprinted to announce their closure.

    My thanks to David Thompson who is an avid collector of anything Ogden related. Naturally both he and I would be most interested to hear from any collector who can add information regarding the Presentation Plates and especially provide an example!

    Gordon Howsden

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    Gordon, you never cease to amaze me with your knowledge of the tobacco industry history, my limited knowledge came from a book written by a certain Gordon Howsden. So as you can see all I know of this period ‘Coupon War’ has come from your hand.

    Finding something that you were not aware of gave me a little smug satisfaction, when I first found them new that they were something of interest but had no knowledge about them, the official Ogden’s book had no jottings of them only the insert register had a brief mention of the descriptive slip.

    I thank Gordon for this article extremely interesting, clear well written and now documented.

    I do hope that further information comes out of the woodwork so that we can complete the pictorial display.

    Regards David



    Gordon, managed to find BEN TINTO, one more to find.


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    Sam Whiting
    Sam Whiting

    That is absolutely fantastic David! Thanks for sharing. I have looked for Little Mon but that’ll take time… I am guessing it’s the pigeon you’re short of now?




    Yes, you got it Sam just the Pigeon, someone will have it somewhere. Am pleased with my purchase, paid a little more than I expected but nevertheless pleased. It is in slightly better condition that my first two but only paid £4 each for them.

    Keep finding unrecorded items to add to the ever expanding list.


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