Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Butterfly-Girl Cigarette Cards

These are rather lovely. They are cigarette cards produced by British American Tobacco and Players cigarettes in 1928. The cards depict Flappers - liberated women of the 1920s who initially scandalised society with their fast-living behaviour - openly drinking and smoking, bobbing their hair, and wearing loose-fitting dresses with short hem-lines that showed off their legs and silk stockings - sporting magnificent pairs of butterfly wings.

Anthropomorphic figures combining human and insect elements perfectly captured the spirit of the Victorian and Edwardian era, and this was due in no small part to the artists and illustrators of the day using fantasy hybrid figures as the basis for their work. Fairies and butterfly-girls proved popular subject matter for illustrators such as Cicely Mary Barker who was responsible for creating the enchanting Flower Fairy series (top and bottom below), and artist John Atkinson Grimshaw who created the painting Iris (1886) middle below. 

Fairy figures also featured largely in the public imagination in the early twentieth century because of the notorious Cottingly Fairies photograph, in which two girls claimed to have captured photographic proof that fairies exist. The image caused a sensation and became famous world-wide. It was only as recently as 1981 that Elsie Wright - one of the two girls responsible - admitted that the image was a hoax, and that the 'fairies' were in fact actually cut-outs from a colouring book.

There were earlier examples of butterfly-girl cigarette cards produced in Germany (to be featured in another post), in which the butterfly-girls wear more modest, classical attire. What is unusual about these B.A.T/Players cigarette cards featuring butterfly-girls is that they depicted contemporary girls - flappers - with butterfly wings, wearing contemporary fashions, which was a first.

The B.A.T and Players butterfly-girl cards were produced as a set of 50, and are based on real butterfly species from across the globe. They are not just pretty ephemera, but an interesting document of social history too. At the time they were produced Europe and America were still recovering from the devastating effects of World War One. During the war women were required to take on roles traditionally reserved for men both socially, and in the work-place. Despite their new enhanced roles, women were still fighting for equality and to get the right to vote through the suffragette movement. It was only in 1928 - the year in which these cards were produced - that all women over the age of 21 in the UK were finally given suffrage.

The graphics on these cigarette cards are so charming, beautifully illustrated, and most probably lithographically printed. I don't think it is recorded who is responsible for illustrating the cards, but they are very charming pieces of ephemera that perfectly encapsulate an interesting period of history.