On the Cards

Sunday, 25th July 2004
Wild West Yorkshire nature diary

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Brooke Bond tea card albumsFreshwater Fish was a 1960 'series of picture cards offered in the interests of education' by Brooke Bond in packets of their PG Tips (and their other teas and coffees). Throughout my childhood similar series appeared at yearly intervals, allowing plenty of time for you to collect the set.

African Wildlife was the first series that I made a serious effort to collect. There was always a frisson of mystery about which card you'd find tucked between the cardboard carton and foil wrapper. It was a disappointment if it was number 25 Black-backed Jackal yet again, but you could always trade surplus cards with your friends at school

'I swopped Robert Bishop for an aardvark today!' I told my Mum excitedly when I got home.

'I bet his mother was pleased!' she said. Ha ha.

fish albumOur Latest Album

The album for the series Freshwater Fish, illustrated by E.V.Petts, contained additional drawings in black and white so there was a feeling you were doing something towards creating the book as you glued in the cards. Albums, price sixpence, were available free from the grocer's.

Between 1957 and 1965 wildlife artist C.F.Tunnicliffe illustrated British Wildlife, Tropical Birds, Wild Flowers, African and Asian Wildlife as well as Wild Birds in Britain. Considering how many times I looked at the cards during the time I was collecting a series, it's not surprising that so many of his images have stuck in my mind. Looking back on them now, to me they haven't dated. They're well drawn and cleverly designed to fit into the format.

My thanks to Pete Leicester, an angler and naturalist from Cheshire, who reassured me, when I mentioned that I couldn't track down my copy of the Fish album earlier this week:

'Fear not, every Brooke Bond tea card you're ever likely to have come across can be found on: http://spaghoops.com/squelch/tea.htm It's part of a very odd site with no particular theme, just a mish-mash of seemingly unrelated sub-sites.'

I spent more time looking through the site than I intended to, it brought back a lot of memories.

From Content to Kitschiness

'The full list of Brooke Bond cards is such a comment on our times,' I grumbled to Pete, 'arcing from content and competence to celebrity (as in Keven Tipps, celebrity) and a knowing kitschiness. Might do a diary entry taking an art critic/ cultural historian's type view of tea cards.'

I'll spare you the art criticism but I think you can see what I'm getting at by comparing the first card of the first series, British Birds (1950), with the penultimate card of the penultimate series, The Wonderful World of Kevin Tipps (1997). I've also included a classic example of Tunnicliffe's artwork from Wild Flowers (Series 3) (1964).

mute swan Mountain Avens Kevin Tipps

1 The Mute Swan
A stately fowl is the mute swan. In snowy plumage with arched wings, bent neck, orange bill and black knob on forehead it looks a royal bird. Its looks do not belie it. An act of Parliament of the time of Queen Elizabeth I, declared all unmarked swans property of the Crown. However she gave permission to keep swans and allowed swan marks to be favoured subjects. Certain companies of the City of London still have swans on the Thames.

31 MOUNTAIN AVENS: Dryas octopetala L. A rare and lovely plant to find during mid-summer on certain mountains of the British Isles - but also near sea-level in the north of Scotland and the west of Ireland. Leaves and flowers are equally beautiful, and for such a dwarf shrubby plant the saucer-shaped, pure white flowers are surprisingly large. Later the golden-yellow stamens give way to a mass of silvery plumes over an inch long, which are almost as attractive as the flower. It favours limestone.

29 Hollywood - America
The celebrated Hollywood sign was erected in the Hollywood Hills in 1923. Originally it spelt out the word 'HOLLYWOODLAND' in letters 5Oft tall and 30ft wide.

meadow cranesbillThe last series in 1998, by the way, was International Soccer Stars which fittingly brought together today's cult of celebrity with an echo of the early days of collector cards: famous footballers were regularly featured on cigarette cards from 1900 to 1950.

This drawing of the seed-heads of Meadow Cranesbill is from the Wild Flowers album. I think Tunnicliffe's experience in wood engraving is evident in this drawing. It was good to have artwork like this around in my early years. It's hard, now that we're swamped with dazzling images, to realise how unusual these miniature colour cards were at the time. During the period Tunnicliffe was producing his cards all natural history films on television (not to mention the rest of the output) were in black and white.

One of nature's dramas

Tunnicliffe sparrowhawkAs I was writing this page I received this e-mail from Pete. I've illustrated it with a Tunnicliffe tea card from Wild Birds in Britain (1965).

'I was watching the village football team in a pre-season friendly (we won 6-0) when what I at first mistook for a collared dove chasing off a small bird came hurtling over the club-house. This became a sparrowhawk chasing its prey when the small bird was taken in mid air by its pursuer right above the visitors goal. I was the only one to notice this drama of nature and the sparrowhawk took its victim to a strip of grass behind the visitor's dug out. It lifted off again when the away team's manager suddenly spotted it and walked toward it, taking its capture over the hedge into a neighbouring garden.

'It's not the first time I've mistaken a sparrowhawk for a collared dove, they can look remarkably similar flying at speed towards or away from you. What I find remarkable is how oblivious people can be to these acts of nature going on right in their midst.

'I walked over to the where the hawk had landed later but there didn't seem to be any feathers about to give me a clue to the victims identity.' Next Page

Related Links

small tortoiseshell, Voerman jr.Barnton & Frodsham A.C., Pete Leicester's angling club.

spaghoops.com 'No Adverts, No Allegiances, Nowt To Buy, No Pressure'

Martin Hoogeboom writes: In the beginning of the 20th century a Dutch factory of tea biscuits 'Verkade' made a series of educational nature books. Also with picture cards. The illustrator of the books & cards Jan Voerman Jr. (left) is the son of the famous Dutch painter Jan Voerman.

Stuurman illustrationLater another Dutch illustrator, Rein Stuurman, made a series of beautiful illustrations for the same factory (right).

'The Space Between', acrylic on paper, HoogeboomSix Moon Night
, Martin Hoogeboom's website includes Wood a new Flash Video (you'll need broadband for this).

Martin's Werklog: in Dutch but includes plenty of examples of his work (left: The Space Between', acrylic on paper, 100X70 cm)

Richard Bell, richard@willowisland.co.uk

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