Saturday, 6 June 2009


In 1957, Brooke Bond and Company began giving away a colourful series of fifty collector’s cards with their tea products. The series was entitled British Bird Portraits and, in recruiting me as an enthusiastic collector, the company set me off on a path of discovery I am still following today (which was probably their aim).

I remember the excitement, and it was exciting for a 1950’s ten-year-old, of opening each new packet of tea and looking for the card between the outer and inner wrapping; would it be a new one for my collection or one I already had? I remember too that there was a grocers shop on a nearby corner where I could take duplicates to swap for precious and yet uncollected cards and, if all else failed and the series ended, Brook Bond kindly sold the cards you needed at a halfpenny each.

The British Bird Portraits cards were illustrated and described by C.F. Tunnicliffe, RA, regarded by the late Sir Peter Scott as possibly the greatest wildlife artist of the twentieth century, and were similar in format to the cards given away in cigarette packets and collected by countless youngsters between the two World Wars. One difference however was that Brooke Bond also sold a collector’s album for sixpence; every card in the series had a place of its own with an accompanying description and as each new card was collected, I carefully stuck it into its place with flour and water paste.

When the series ended I still needed five or six cards to complete my collection, one of which described the Great Crested Grebe. I sent away a thrupenny postal order to Brooke Bond and eagerly awaited the postman’s delivery. The cards duly arrived and my first view of the Great Crested Grebe left me spell-bound and set me off on another journey, one which took some years to complete.

Today, the Great Crested Grebe remains one of my most favourite birds and subsequent series of Brooke Bond cards, such as British Wild Life and collections describing trees, freshwater fish, wild flowers, and more British bird species, served only to reinforce my interest in natural history.

The Great Crested Grebe which started the Journey

A page from the album showing a Grey Wagtail,
Green Woodpecker & Nuthatch

The album cover

The subsequent British Wild Life collection, another full set I collected, and two collector's cards from the series, one of Fallow Deer, the other of the Chillingham Wild White Cattle, again illustrated by C. F. Tunnicliffe, RA:


Greenfingers said...

I remember them well. The two wild flower series kindled my interest in botany. I have a vague recollection that there was one card in BB Dividend tea and two in the more expensive PG Tips, which I always nagged my mother to buy (without success!). I think there might have been even more cards in the boxes of tea bags, when they brought those out. It's easy to forget what a poor choice of wildlife books illustrated in colour existed in the late 1950s and early 1960s - and how expensive they were, compared with today's massive choice of beautifully illustrated wildlife guides. I think BB did natural history a great service by publishing these cards.

Alan Tilmouth said...

It's surprising how these early experiences 'stick.' I have recollection of, aged six or less, looking again and again at the alternate coloured then balck and white images in my fathers copy of The Observers Book of Birds. The same copy now sits on my six year old's window sill in the hope it still holds inspiration.

Anonymous said...

I hate to say it Emma, but I remember them as well. What I really do wish is that I had a digital camera in those days. What a collection of animals, birds, farming and nature in general I would have now.

Midmarsh John said...

Brings back memories, Emma. All sorts of card series produced by many manufacturers. Simple pleasures one might say but such information was much harder to come by in those days.
I wonder how many of this generations ten year olds would be 'turned on' by such a simple device as a free card collection?

holdingmoments said...

What a wonderful post Emma.
That was a walk back in time for me too. I remember pestering my mum and dad to keep buying tea, so I could have the cards. We must have had half the tea from China in our kitchen cupboards in my persuite of the 'cards.'
Great stuff.

Brian R. said...

Between those and the I Spy books i also found things that stay with me to this day. Wished i had kept them, along with my Beatles cards and collection of OZ magazines from the 60s.

abbey meadows said...

My older brother had full collections of cards from packets of tea and not just natural history. I remember them well but with several house moves they disappeared. I like AT's comment about alternate b/w and colour pictures on the Observers book of birds. I had two books which had opposite B/w and colour pictures so I had the full book in colour and b/w.

Nyctalus said...

Hi Emma, If you are ever passing by the Union Bridge across the Tweed near Berwick, call in at the Chainbridge Honey Farm. As well as finding out everything you ever wanted to know about honey bees they also have a random collection of BB picture card books. Great place, and free too!