Illustration of Killarney, County Kerry, from a John Player cigarette card, illustrated by Jack B Yeats.New York Public Library.

Nowadays cigarette cards are something that we find hard to image, but the New York Public Library is in the process of digitalizing Player’s Cigarettes' cards dating from the late 1920s. These treasures, depicting towns and areas in Ireland with a description of the locale on the flipside, were created by Irish artist Jack B. Yeats, best remembered for his painting "The Liffey Swim."

It’s hard to believe that an artist so well regarded would put his name to something given away as a collectable in cigarette packets when nowadays tobacco companies are even forbidden to have signage in shops. How times have changed.

The cards below are part of a collection of 50 cards by Yeats which illustrate Irish place names. They were produced by Player’s Cigarettes in two sets of 25. Adam’s auctioneers described the pieces as “very scarce.”

Jack B Yeat's illustration of Clonmel.

Jack B Yeat's illustration of Clonmel.

Jack Butler Yeats, the artist behind these cards, was a brother of the famous Irish poets William Butler Yeats. Jack, famed for his painting "The Liffey Swim," won an Olympic medal for the painting in 1924. His early years as an illustrator made him the ideal artist to create these collectables.

Yeat's illustration of Downpatrick.

Yeat's illustration of Downpatrick.

Cigarette cards such as these were first issued around 1887. They were included in the soft packets as advertising cards and to stiffen up the packaging. John Player & Sons produced one of the first general interest sets – “Castles and Abbeys” – in 1893. Typically they were issued in sets of 25 to 50 and the most popular themes were pinups (actresses, singers, models), sport stars, nature, military heroes, uniform, heraldry and city views. In 2007 a world record was broken in America when a single card sold for $2.35 million.

Below are other examples of the cards.

The back of the Armagh card.

The back of the Armagh card.

Illustration of Booterson town, South Dublin.

Illustration of Booterson town, South Dublin.

You can view the rest of the collection here: DigitalCollections.nypl.org.

H/T: Come Here To Me.