Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Tin of the Week: No.8 - Woodbine Cigarettes

 For a change, I though I would shake things up with  Tin nay, Package of the Week, starring Wills Woodbine Cigarettes in the beautifully intricate designed packaging.

My Dad found this empty packet wedged behind a door frame

Woodbine's history begins in Castle Street, Bristol in 1786 when  Henry Overton Wills set up a partnership in tobacco rolling with a Samuel Watkins; when Watkins later retired three years later the company was renamed Wills and Co.

With strong manufacturing foundations in the south-west (Wills had  factories in both Bristol and Swindon) and also in London, Newcastle, Glasgow and Dublin, the company went from strength to strength. The brands produced included 'Bristol' cigarettes made in 1871 until 1974, 'Three Castles', 'Gold Flake', 'Embassy' and also 'Woodbine', first made in 1888. The unfiltered Wild Woodbine cigarette (Wills introduced a filtered version in 1948) with its strong tobacco blend soon became the market leader, being seen as 'the working man's cigarette'. The popularity of the Woodbine cig continued into the twentieth century, being the preferred smoke for troops in both World Wars and no doubt for many boys wishing to both emulate their silver screen heroes and collect the brightly coloured cigarette cards.

Some of Husband's grandfather's collection of Woodbine cigarette cards; the illustrations are wonderful
 As my smoking days are far behind me (I prefered roll-ups), a quick scan of online shops shows that you can still buy Woodbine 'Plain Cigarettes', although in a decidedly very plain packet compared to the original.

Woodbines have also made their mark throughout popular culture, from being included within fiction such as E.M. Forster's Howards End and George Orwell's Coming up for Air: "A pink-faced kid of about eight would walk up to a knot of us wounded men sitting on the grass, split open a pack of Woodbines and solemnly hand one fag to each man, just like feeding the monkeys at the zoo"; to song lyrics in the form of Van Morrison's 'Cleaning Windows':
I went home and listened to Jimmie Rodgers in my lunch-break
Bought five Woodbines at the shop on the corner
And went straight back to work.
Last, but definately not least is the 1973 jacket design of Keith Waterhouse's Billy Liar, a wonderful play on the Woodbine packaging by the amazing (and one of my favourites) artist Tony Meeuwissen.


  1. My Dad's dad always smoked Woodbines - he used to give the cards to us grandchildren to play with. When he was a POW in Germany they were his only luxury.

  2. I was amazed to see that Woodbines and Navy Cut are still on sale in India, a hangover from Colonial times, I suppose. Those cards are beauties and I love the Billy Liar book cover. xxx

  3. I've been enjoying your tins series and this is my favourite by far. I love the book jacket too.
    Hester x

  4. Brilliant book jacket - never seen that version before! I have a small collection of cigarette cards similiar to above, very inspirational :)

  5. I jus wanted to thnk you for your helpful (to me anyway) blog post. I am a writer, in the novel I am working on one of my characters smokes Woodbines. I have had so many people telling me that Woodbines are no longer available that I decided to google it, and came across your blog. A big thanks for setting my mind at ease, Russell Pevensey can carry on smoking his favourite cigarettes (even if he does have to purchase them online!) and I can carry on writing knowing I have my facts right!

  6. Thanks for the reminder VK. I was a bit of a Gold Flake man myself back in the day but the intricate graphics on the Woodbine packet take a bit of beating. Thanks too for the Tony Meeuwissen re-interpretation, brilliant!

  7. Firstly, welcome Vicki, Akasha and Jon :-)

    Thanks for all your comments, I've enjoyed finding out about these cigs and how they've lingered in people's lives. Its surprising the number of memories they conjure up for people.

  8. Lovely post Vintage Knitter. You will see at the Cirencester exhibition that Tony M displays a cigarette pack based on the Billy Liar book jacket! Just to complete the circle.

  9. Do any. Off you ex wood binders remember the story of the little boy behind the tree on the packet,my grandfather used to tell me in the fifties thanks

    1. I haven't heard that story before - do tell...


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