Although I'm a hardcore coffee drinker, I was born into a tea-drinking family and grew up with Brooke Bond picture cards. Without wanting to overstate the excitement, it was a bit of a thrill to open up new packets of tea and dig out the card that came with them. I remember having some of the albums , like The Saga of Ships and The Race into Space, originally published in the early 1970s. The first sets dated back to 1954, based on the old cigarette cards that had existed for years. Brooke Bond's first set of 20 featured photographs of British birds; photos also featured in the second set of 50 wild flowers and it was only with the third set, Out Into Space, that the cards were illustrated with paintings.
Many of the early sets issued in the 1950s and 1960s were drawn by C. F. Tunnicliffe, a superb nature artist whose talents would eventually earn him an O.B.E. Tunnicliffe illustrates five of the twelve sets reproduced in Mark Knowler's Classic Brooke Bond Picture Cards Collections and the book is worth picking up for those five sets alone.
But there's a lot more included. The twelve complete sets include Transport Through the Ages, Flags and Emblems of the World, History of the Motor Car, as well as the wildlife sets. It might have been nice to have had a little more diversity... the introduction hints at some of the many other fascinating subjects covered by Brooke Bond over the years, including Peter Scott's Wildlife in Danger from 1963, highlighting animals that were facing extinction, and its sequel, Vanishing Wildlife, Inventors and Inventions, Police File, Unexplained Mysteries of the World, Creatures of Legend or even the final set, The Secret Diary of Kevin Tipps, which featured the PG Tips chimps used in so many hilarious adverts.
That's not to belittle the choices here, but the concentration on nature for three-quarters of the book doesn't show off the variety of sets to their best. It does, however, open the way for a sequel, which I'd be eager to see.
Classic Brooke Bond Picture Cards Collections. Prion ISBN 978-1853757204, October 2008.