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Tobacco, From Plantation to Players - book revue, profile and price guide. A fascinating book about John Player & Sons. This book looks at tobacco growing, cultivating and harvesting, manufacturing or smoking products and the culture and working conditions at John Player and Sons Nottingham factories.
Book, a history of John Player and Sons
Tobacco - From Plantation to Players

About the Book: Tobacco, From Plantation to Players

John Player and Sons is one of the UK's best known manufacturers of tobacco products. In 1877 John Player (1839-1884) bought his first factory in Broad Marsh, Nottingham. He was considered a great visionary with an astute business mind. The Broad Marsh factory was already producing tobacco products and under his guidance, and then that of his sons, John Dane Player (1864-1950) and William Goodacre Player (1866-1959), the company evolved quickly and became one of the largest employers in Nottingham for a large part of the twentieth century.

Tobacco, From Plantation to Players was first published in 1936. The copy shown here is the revised edition of 1953. Both editions were published before the modern-day ostracising of smokers, but irrespective of how society feels now about smoking, this super book is an excellent read. It gives the reader an insight into the social history of the first half of the twentieth century and it has elements of a corporate history, including detailed sections on growing and harvesting tobacco plants, warehousing and the manufacture of affiliated products.

My understanding is that the book was written for and frequently given to employees of Player's. The company was renowned as a caring employer: Its staff were often well paid relative to pay-levels of the time, well cared for and encouraged to participate in social and recreational activities organised by the company. Welfare included several in-house surgeries which were staffed with nurses and doctors, company sick pay for staff - in addition to State Sickness Benefits, and from 1929 a pension scheme for both male and female employees. Working areas were light and spacious and the company invested heavily in new machinery.

John Player and Sons also provided extensive recreational facilities at the Aspley Lane Recreation Ground. Cricket, bowls, hockey, tennis and netball facilities were provided, with frequent inter-departmental (other departments of Imperial Tobacco, the group of which Player's was a member) contests sponsored by the company. There were five cricket pitches, eighteen tennis courts, a bowling green, five football pitches, three hockey pitches, a putting course, a rifle range and courts for both basketball and netball. Social events included: Whist drives, dances, concerts, galas, fancy dress and other social events and outings.

The combination of pictures and text in Tobacco, From Plantation to Players, gives the reader an excellent insight into this British company, its history and culture, its factories and the business outlook which helped to make it so successful.

John Player and Sons logo
The Player's "Hero" logo, known by generations of smokers

Contents: Tobacco, From Plantation to Players

  • Historical
  • The Leaf - Principle Varieties
  • The Leaf - Growth, Cultivation, Harvesting, Curing
  • The Manufacture of Tobacco - Preparation of the Leaf
  • The Manufacture of Cigarette Tobacco
  • The Manufacture of Cigarettes
  • The Packing of Cigarettes
  • The Manufacture of Pipe Tobaccos
  • Weighing and Packing Tobaccos
  • Other Departments
    • The Despatch Department
    • Making Cigarette Boxes
    • The Training School
    • The Research Laboratory
    • The Engineers' Department
    • The Standby Plant
    • The Factory Restaurant
  • Welfare
  • The Athletic Club
  • Books
  • John Player and Sons - A Short History

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Book, including tobacco production
A frontispiece showing John Player

About the Photographs:

They say "a picture speaks a thousand words" and in this case I have to agree. Photographs appear on every page and form a remarkable social history of smoking from the sixteenth century to the mid twentieth century, as well as the working conditions and company ethics of John Player & Sons. The following are included:

  • A colour representation of Hero, the Players registered trademark
  • Black and white portrait: John Player (1839-1884)
  • Line drawings of a tobacco plant, carved pipes from Indian grave mounds, a calumet (or pipe of peace), a Mayan priest smoking and Sir Francis Drake's flagship, The Golden Hind
  • Black and white reproductions of the paintings by A.D. McCormick:
    • Captains Myddleton, Thomas Price and Koet, the first to smoke tobacco publicly in Britain (twisted leaves were used as cigars)
    • Ralph Lane, First Governor of Virginia, presenting an Indian pipe to Sir Walter Raleigh in 1586
  • Further line drawings including Sir Walter Raleigh's interrupted smoke, a lady smoking (1650), cavaliers smoking (seventeenth century) and a river party (1860)
  • Line drawing being the earliest representation of a tobacco plant
  • Black and white images of: A Virginian tobacco plant (Nicostiana Tabacum), workers examining a tobacco plant bed, workers lifting young plants from beds for transplanting, workers transplanting tobacco seedlings and workers "topping" the tobacco plant
  • Similar photographs of: A tobacco crop ready for harvesting, harvesting tobacco, stringing tobacco outside a curing barn, delivering tobacco at curing barns and filling a curing barn
  • Pictures for procedures after the curing barn including: Tobacco in an auction sales warehouse, unloading tobacco at a leaf-packing factory, a scene in a hanging room, filling casks in the prize room, stencilling casks in the prize room and loading onto a boat at Norfolk VA
  • A black and white image of Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse, Liverpool - then the largest warehouse in the world
  • A two-page two-tone image of the factories of John Player & Sons at Nottingham
  • Black and white images for preparation of the tobacco leaf: Opening the casks, blending and conditioning, stemming and conditioning and casing
  • Similar for the manufacture of cigarette tobacco: A cutting machine, batteries of cutting machines, stoving and cooling cigarette tobacco, in the storage room
  • The manufacture of cigarettes: A cigarette making machine hopper, modern cigarette making machines (c1930-50s) and a line of women packing cigarettes
  • The manufacture of pipe tobacco: Workers sorting leaf for wrapping plugs of tobacco, workers moulding and wrapping plugs of tobacco, hydraulic retaining presses, slicing Navy Cut tobacco and a mould and press for flake tobacco
  • Weighing and packing tobaccos: weighing, packing and wrapping Navy Cut tobaccos, packs of medium navy cut, Digger shag tobacco, navy mixture and Digger flake
  • Photographs relating to other departments include: Compiling orders - despatch department, box making room, training school, research laboratory, engineers department, the standby plant and the factory restaurant
  • Further images include: John Player & Sons No. 2 factory (Nottingham), the company's Dublin factory, one of the company surgeries, image from a girls hockey game, the cricket ground, the pavilion at Aspley Sports Ground and a corner of the bowling green
  • Closing pages include a portrait of Mr. J. D. Player and Mr. W.G. Player, a line drawing of John Player's first tobacco factory in Broad Marsh (Nottingham), a double page spread of Player's tobacco product packaging in black and white and a colour image of Player's Medium Navy Cut cigarettes
Harvesting the tobacco plant
Many black and white photographs including tobacco harvesting

About John Player & Sons - As A Publisher: 

As a publisher John Player and Sons is best known for its cigarette cards. These were offered by many cigarette manufacturers around the world and come under the general banner of trade cards - as do tea cards, bubble gum cards and a host of others. Many of these other types became more prominent as the production of cigarette cards later declined. Pictorial cards were introduced by Player's as early as 1895 with a series of twenty cards: Castles and Abbeys. Such cards represented an innovative way for tobacco companies to secure brand loyalty. They were usually issued in sets which the consumer was encouraged to collect. Player's issued about two hundred such sets of cards from 1895 to the outbreak of the second world war, and there is a strong market for collectors of these cards today. Other card series issued by Player's included:

  • 1898 Actors & Actresses
  • 1898 England's Military Heroes
  • 1904 Badges and Flags of British Regiments
  • 1912 Characters from Dickens
  • 1915 Polar Exploration
  • 1927 Football Caricatures by Mac
  • 1933 Derby and Grand National Winners
  • 1935 Aeroplanes
  • 1938 Old Hunting Prints
  • 1939 Modern Naval Craft

Player's produced many cards of a military nature along with subjects such as sports, beauties, entertainers, architecture, transport and a host of others.

Particularly popular in the 1930s were the adhesive backed cigarette cards. These were designed to be collected and inserted into purpose-made albums which were also published by Players. It was an attempt to move away from the previously used albums where cards were slotted into blank pages. The new albums included an outline where the card could be stuck with the text from the back of the card shown alongside it. This text was printed as part of the album because, once stuck down, any information on the back of a card could no longer be accessed. In principle a good idea perhaps, but cards in these albums are not considered desirable by modern collectors as they have effectively been defaced by sticking them into the album. However, empty albums which have never been used are quite collectable in their own right - often worth more than the same album with the original cards stuck in.

After the second world war, Player's stopped issuing cigarette cards in their packets. This was largely because of rationing both during and in the post war years, but also because other customer loyalty schemes superceded them.

There were new cards published by Player's in the 1970s onward. These were included with some of the company's cigar brands, but were of inferior quality to the original cigarette cards.

Player's have also been associated with literature published in the 1960s-1980s, although these were not published by the company. Most were of a sporting nature and related to the company's sponsorship deals in cricket and motor sports.

Tobacco factory and processing equipment
Photos showing equipment used in the production of tobacco in the 1930s to 1950s

Physical Outline: Tobacco - From Plantation to Players

  • Title: Tobacco - From Plantation to Players
  • Author: Unattributed
  • Published by John Player & Sons, revised edition, 1953
  • Printed by Mardon, Son & Hall
  • Format: A hard cover book, no dust jacket
  • Pages: 54, detailed text, black and white photos 
  • Size Approx: 179x238mm
  • Approx weight: 284g

Estimated Book Value:

If you need values in US dollars, Euros or a host of other major currencies, a currency converter is included in the right hand sidebar of this page, and another in the footer area.

Tobacco, From Plantation to Players, estimated value of the pictured copy, a revised edition, which is in very good condition, no dust jacket (believed to be as issued), £15

Estimated value of the same book in fine condition, £20

External Links:

(opens in a new window)

John Player & Sons

Imperial Tobacco

Mardon, Son & Hall

The Tobacco Wars

John Dane Player

William Goodacre Player

The Golden Hinde

Cigarette Cards

A.D. McCormick

Sir Walter Raleigh

Stanley Dock

Commercial Loyalty Schemes

John Player & Sons Packaging

Aspley Lane Recreation Ground