First-Hand: 'I constantly dream about my card collection': A keen collector has gone to prison for stealing rare beer bottle labels. Cigarette card enthusiast Edward Wharton-Tigar can sympathise

Suzanne Glass
Saturday 03 September 1994 23:02
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I BOUGHT the house next door a while back to store my card collection. Most of them are cigarette cards and they took up two whole rooms from floor to ceiling in my first house. They were beginning to get in the way a little, so I spent pounds 50,000 to have somewhere to keep them.

I have over a million of them. I've been at it since 1917. They're worth between pounds 2m and pounds 3m, and good God, no, I would never sell them. I started collecting them when I was four. My father, who was a heavy smoker, gave me my first card. I'm 81 now, so that makes 77 years of collecting. One doesn't really understand what one has embarked on at that age. It isn't till one is about 12 that one becomes consumed by it.

I got myself into serious trouble as a child with my collectors' mania. I swopped my mother's valuable stamp collection for what was then a worthless cigarette card collection. I used to collect lots of other things as well, like birds eggs.

I think collectors' mania is hereditary. My mother had it and so did my grandmother. If you have it, you have it. There is simply nothing you can do about it. You are driven by this desire to complete things.

One understands the man who stole the beer bottle labels. One knows that kleptomania is a trait of collectors, doesn't one? I mean, I am a member of the Cartophilic Society, for people who collect cards of all sorts and one knows lots of people who have stolen cards to complete their sets. It's that feeling that you must have it, the 'if you can't buy it, nick it' philosophy. I only managed to resist the temptation myself because I could

afford to buy the cards I wanted, to complete my sets. I've got 50,000 sets now.

I have collected every type of card under the sun. Fifty per cent came with some type of tobacco, but then there are other wonderful sets like the extract of beef set, produced by a company in Uruguay. I've managed to get every one of those cards issued since 1865 and, yes, I'm terribly proud of it.

Many of the cards are really most attractive. For example there's the one with a picture of a train going through the Connaught Tunnel in the Canadian Pacific.

One's general knowledge is so much improved by collecting cards. They all have such interesting information on them. For example, I can tell you what a mushroom ring is. It's when mushrooms die and fall down and go into a ring. I can even tell you how the Union Jack originated or the origin of Marble Arch. Did you know it was originally an entrance to Buckingham Palace? These questions are part of the 'Do You Know ?' set, which came with Gold Flake cigarettes. It's one of my favourites. Another of my favourites is the Cricketers Set, produced by Churchman Cigarettes. That was all about prominent cricketers of 1938. I'm sure card collectors contribute significantly to society with their general knowledge.

I retired from my job as managing director of a mining company 10 years ago and since then I've spent from eight o'clock in the morning till about midnight on my collection. Sometimes my wife and I go to our cottage in the country, because she's got a few sheep down there, but I always, always take a batch of my cards with me, to work on them. I do try to lead a normal life though, inviting friends and things, but I think about my collection a lot.

In fact I constantly dream about it and I have the most awful nightmares about how I'm going to mount it. You see, I've willed it to the British Museum and they've asked me to mount it for them. It was a great achievement that they accepted it and on my terms. I said they had to make it available to the general public. They said, 'But we don't know how to mount it', so I said I'd do it for them. I think it was David Attenborough who gave it the final push. He was a trustee of the museum and he said: 'We've just got to have this collection.'

I'm jolly glad my daughters haven't inherited my mania. They might want me to leave the cards to them and they're not certainly not getting them.

My wife tolerates what I do, but she does grumble a bit I suppose, because she's really not interested in it. But it's really such an intriguing way to spend one's life. If I dropped dead tomorrow I would feel I had completed something. Or at least almost completed it. One is never totally finished in this business, is one? I'd say, apart from my marriage, my cards are the most important thing in my life.

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