Collecting hockey and other sports cards is still today a popular and common hobby. Back in the early days of advertising, sports cards were only one of a huge variety of collectable cards produced and marketed by different companies. Among the cards produced, mainly in Europe and the United States, were a number of sets which featured the people, wildlife and landscapes of the Arctic. There were card sets of famous Arctic explorers and their ships, Arctic historic sites, Arctic plants and animals, and the people of the Arctic. Some were fanciful, and not too accurate, and the accompanying texts were often poorly written. But for that time period, these cards did provide an easily accessible source of information on what had been a relatively unknown part of the world.
In 1910-1912, the Hassan Cigarette company of the USA produced two of the Arctic card sets most sought-after by collectors. Their series called, “The World’s Greatest Explorers,” included many explorers who travelled in what is now Nunavut. There are cards for American Robert Peary and his companion Matthew Henson, Norwegian Otto Sverdrup who charted and named many islands in Canada’s High Arctic, Adolphus Greely whose U.S. expedition headquarters still remain on Ellesmere Island, Roald Amundsen of Northwest Passage fame, and a very unhappy-looking Sir John Franklin. The only Canadian featured was Captain Bob Bartlett of Newfoundland who accompanied Peary on his polar expeditions almost to the North Pole. Vilhjalmur Stefansson and the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913-1918 were unfortuately too late to make the series.
In the accompanying Hassan series called, “Arctic Scenes,” two Canadian localities were featured: Cape Sabine and Cape Victoria, both on eastern Ellesmere Island, and on the route to the North Pole. Several other cards showed Arctic expedition ships and Greenlanders in their traditional skin clothes, but none showed Inuit from Canada. The artist was Albert Operti, a well-known Italian painter who travelled North with Peary in 1896.
John Players and Sons produced a series of 25 cards, in 1915, and again in 1916, called “Polar Exploration,” depicting Arctic and Antarctic explorers. The earlier version included several Canadian scenes, including the abandonment of Henry Hudson in Hudson’s Bay and Edward Parry meeting Inuit near Igloolik in 1822. Sir John Franklin’s explorations are covered with cards showing his 1819-1822 travels in the western Arctic, and the relics of his tragic last expedition of 1845-1847. Some of the items shown on the latter card will be displayed at the Canadian Museum of History in a major exhibit on the Franklin expeditions to open in 2017. Again in this set, the local people of the North were mostly represented by Inuit from Greenland who assisted the explorers on their Arctic travels towards the North Pole.
A set of small and flimsy cards made in Switzerland in about 1929, featuring “La Conquête du Pôle Nord” (Série No 39), advertised Nestlé chocolates and showed several explorers who travelled within Canada, including Peary and Amundsen. The back of the card held only advertising about the series, nothing about the explorers. An album to hold the cards could be purchased where the chocolates were sold. Most trade card sets include some Arctic wildlife, usually at least a polar bear. An example is a fold-out polar bear in a set of 60 “Animals” made for “Millbank: the Quality Cigarette” in England. The polar bear is accurately described as being “equally at home in water and on land.” Less common are Arctic fox cards. A beautiful old “Arctic Foxes” card is found in an “Interesting Animals” card-set used by the John Dwight Company of New York to increase sales of their “Cow Brand Soda.” The back of the card wrongly tells us that the Arctic fox has “very little of the proverbial cunning of its kind.” The entire 60-card set could be purchased with six two-cent stamps.
In more recent times, Brooke Bond Foods Limited of Montreal produced an attractive, accurate, Canadian series of trade cards. This 1973 bilingual series called “The Arctic – L’Arctique” included 48 different cards depicting Arctic history, people, plants and animals. The cards came in packages of Red Rose Tea. A special album to display the cards could be purchased for 25 cents. These cards were lithographed in Canada and copyrighted by the National Wildlife Federation. Three different artists created the illustrations (Clair Walton, Charles Ripper, and Lazare and Parker).
Among my favourites in this series are the Seal Hunter, the Arctic Wolf, Gyrfalcon, Hudson’s Bay Post, RCMP Patrol Boat St. Roch, and the Manhatten Voyage. The consultants for the card series were Roger Tory Peterson and James Woodford. They did a fine job, and helped many young Canadians learn about Canada’s Arctic history, people, and wildlife.
All cards illustrated are from the author’s collection.