Many of the cards listed within these checklists were issued in England and other countries under the UK umbrella. The reason for this is simple - that's where the majority of early movie star trading cards were issued. There were some sets issued in the United States, but these tend to be scarce and are generally not as attractive as the British sets.
Many other countries around the world also produced movie card sets. Checklists on this site can be found for countries such as Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Malta, Egypt, Yugoslavia, Estonia, South Africa, Cuba, Panama, Chile, Uruguay, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. All of these countries issued movie card sets showing Hollywood movie stars. Some also included their local movie stars, when movies were issued for their countries or when their citizens became international stars.
Hollywood movie stars are found on cards from around the world, as movies made in Hollywood have been shown around the world and translated into other languages. While the text from cards issued in other countries might be in another language, the stars are usually recognizable.
The first movies were made in the late 19th Century and the movie business was very primitive in the early part of the 20th Century. In the 1910s movies began to become more prevalent, and by the 1920s they were a very popular form of entertainment.
Movies were largely silent, black and white productions in the 1920s. Some big stars began to emerge in this era including Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks. These three became so popular and wealthy that they formed their own movie production company, United Artists. Romantic star Rudolph Valentino also emerged in this era, and his sudden death in 1926 brought out over 100,000 people to his funeral.
Sound became a standard in the movies in the early 1930s, causing many silent stars to disappear from the movie scene. Color movies were made in this era, though black and white remained the standard for many more years. Many big stars emerged in this era, including Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, and Jean Harlow to name a few.
The first documented cigarette cards were issued in 1877, before movies even began, and pictured stage actresses. The idea of inserting a card in a cigarette package quickly caught on and there were thousands of sets issued around the world from the 1880s through about 1940. These cards pictured just about every conceivable subject, from sporting figures to politicians to many non-human subjects such as animals, flags, and world scenes. Even before movies, there were cigarette cards picturing stage actors and actresses.
In 1940, World War II stopped cigarette cards cold, as they were deemed a non-essential item and a waste of valuable paper. They never really started up again after the war, although there were a few sets issued here and there.
In the United States, cigarette cards ended in about 1912, though there were a few issues after that. Because of this, there are very few U.S. movie star cigarette card sets. The U.S. movie star cards that were issued came with a variety of products, mostly candy and gum items. U.S. cards were also issued through weighing machines and Exhibit machines.
Cigarette cards were very popular in England in the 1920s and 1930s, with thousands of sets issued. Movie stars were a very popular subject, and the British cigarette cards documented these movie stars from the very beginnings of motion pictures. These old cards now form a very historical record of the pioneers in the movie business.
A surprisingly large number of these old cigarette cards survive in nice condition. This is probably due to the large number of collectors who pursued these beautiful cards when they were issued. It is also due to the fact that British card collecting became an organized hobby long before card collecting gained popularity in the United States. There were British firms in the card selling business as far back as the early 1930s, and these companies helped preserve the supply and condition of many of these sets as they stocked them for their customers.
The stunning beauty of many of the cigarette card sets continues to attract collectors today. These cards were obviously a very important part of the cigarette business in the 1920s and 1930s and the quality of the cards was taken very seriously by the manufacturers. A successful card set meant increased cigarette sales, and the firms often tried to outdo each other, leaving collectors with cards featuring some very high quality artwork.
Before World War II, many other countries also produced movie star card sets, issued mostly with cigarettes or confectionary products. Chile, surprisingly, was a particularly prolific issuer of movie star cards in the 1930s, producing some fine and interesting sets. Germany produced a large number of sets in the 1930s, some of extremely high quality, and their sets were usually very large in size, regularly containing 100 cards or more in a set, and often numbering 250 cards or more. Spain was another country that produced a large number of movie star card sets in the 1920s and 1930s, mostly issued with chocolates. Due to their neutral stance in World War II, Spain was just about the only country in the world that continued to produce card sets during the war years of the early 1940s.
After World War II, movie star cards rose again in different form. Sweden was probably the biggest producer of movie star trading cards in the 1950s, issuing a long string of colorful sets showing all the big stars of the era. Many sets were also issued in Belgium and The Netherlands in those years, and these cards stretched into the 1960s and even into the 1970s.
Movie star trading cards mostly disappeared after the late 1970s, probably due to the disappearance of the studio system of movie star contract performers. Before that time, it appears that the Hollywood studios would sell photos of their stars to the card issuers, who produced the card sets. When that practice ended, it became much harder to produce movie star trading card sets because of the cost and effort required to procure approvals from individual performers to put together card sets. There have been a few sets issued here and there since that time, but most movie star trading card sets issued after the 1960s have focused on scenes from a particular movie, as the rights to a movie were relatively easy for a card issuer to purchase. Putting together a card set now with all the top movie stars would be a difficult proposition, as there is no group licensing for all the top movie stars available like there is for other groups such as baseball players or other sports stars.
The checklists on this website are organized in alphabetical order by manufacturer. Under each manufacturer, the sets are listed in alphabetical order by set title. Many sets without a manufacturer listed are placed in the Anonymous (Mostly BAT) Checklists section. There is also a Card Identifier section which allows for identification of movie star card sets that are hard to identify otherwise.
I hope these checklists will be useful to anyone who loves these old cards and the oldtime movies and movie stars depicted. Any feedback is welcome.
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