Cigarette and Tea Cards

by Mike Dingley - Australia


There have been several articles written (in Micscape and printed journals) on postage stamps that depict microscopes and/or microscopic life which have been of interest to me, as I collect stamps that have microscopes on them. Looking through a cupboard recently I discovered a set of 'tea cards' and a partial set of 'cigarette cards' that I had collected a few years back that have pictures of micro and macroscopic life on them. Years ago, cigarette and tea companies enclosed these free cards, on various subjects, in with their products. I had stumbled on these cards when I visited England a few years ago when I happened to be browsing a postage stamp and card fair.

My complete set is called 'Small Wonders' and contains 50 different cards and were available from Brooke Bond Oxo Limited in London, UK. They are un-dated but must have been available after the introduction of New Pence money (in 1971?) as you could send for a free album or poster and send 15p. towards postage. Each card has a specific animal or plant described and on the front is a picture or rather two; one showing a normal view and another showing a close-up view.

The pictures are actual photographs. Subjects include such things as domestic sugar, soap bubbles, fish scales, water flea, spider and stinging nettle. The text is minimal as would be expected on the size of the card and for the audience it was designed for. Number 17 Honeycomb symmetry has the following text;

Honeycomb is made of wax secreted by worker bees from special wax glands. The hexagonal shape of each cell not only gives a beautiful symmetrical pattern, but it also gives the strongest construction, with the minimum amount of building material and the maximum volume for storing honey and pollen. Note in the close-up photo, how the cells on the opposite side of the comb are completely offset, so giving greater rigidity. The cells are inclined at an angle so that the liquid honey will not run out before the cells are capped.

I have included several cards for you to look at.

  • No. 17. Honeycomb, symmetry. 
  • No. 29. Water Flea, movement 
  • No. 36. Soap Bubbles, colour spectrum. 
  • No. 37. Snow Flake, crystal formation. 

The other set contains eleven cards from a possible twenty five. The title is 'Hidden Beauties' and were available inside John Player & Sons cigarette packs. The first card in the set shows a microscope and the text talks about using one to see the 'hidden beauties'. These cards differ from the previous ones because they not only show macroscopic but also microscopic specimens as well as being drawn rather than photographed. The cards depict such beauties as mesocarpus, section of pond weed and maize, pollen, globigerinids, periwinkle's tongue and moth's eggs. No. 25 Eggs - of sorts has the following text:

She is dowdy, she is despised-nay, more-her life is frequently in danger, for the careful housewife holds her in abhorence. Seen under the microscope, however, her eggs, with their sculptured surfaces, show an irridescent beauty-so that after all there's something to be said for the Common Clothes Moth!

  • No. 1. Hidden beauties. 
  • No. 11. A Leaf-Slice. 
  • No. 22. A Toothsome Matter. 
  • No. 25. Eggs - Of Sorts.
  • I only know of two sets of cards depicting micro and macroscopic plants and animals. The cards I have measure 68mm X 36mm and are all coloured.

    There may be more sets made and the author would like to hear from readers if any others exist. I would also like to acquire the full set of 'Hidden Beauties' either as a full set or the missing numbers. I can be contacted by Comments to the author sent via our contacts page quoting page url plus : ('mdingley','')">e-mail.

    Microscopy UK Front Page
    Micscape Magazine
    Article Library

    © Microscopy UK or their contributors.

    First published in August 1998 Micscape Magazine.

    Please report any Web problems or offer general comments to the Micscape Editor,
    via the contact on current Micscape Index.

    Micscape is the on-line monthly magazine of the Microscopy UK web
    site at Microscopy-UK

    © Ltd, Microscopy-UK, and all contributors 1995 onwards. All rights reserved. Main site is at with full mirror at