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home : columnists : white glove March 29, 2017

2/8/2017 11:09:00 AM
The original 'Player' of cigarettes
THE WHITE GLOVE inspects a tobacco tin produced by Castle Tobacco Factory, a family- owned European tobacco company that has been in business for 140 years.
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THE WHITE GLOVE inspects a tobacco tin produced by Castle Tobacco Factory, a family- owned European tobacco company that has been in business for 140 years.
by Tonya Michalec
Staff writer

A Player's Whiskey Brown Flake Rubbed Ready loose tobacco can was discovered in downtown Wilmington at Paraphernalia Antiques, located at 114 N. Water St. It is priced at $6.50.

Slightly smaller than a hockey puck, the dark green container with white and orange lettering is made to hold "one ounce when packed" of loose leaf tobacco. To get at it, users need to have a least one coin on hand, according to the side label that reads: "To open: insert coin and twist."

The bottom of the can states that it was made by the John Player & Sons branch of the Imperial Tobacco Company (of Great Britain and Ireland), a limited edition product.

The tin is void of any production date or product numbering.

Rubbed Ready Player's Whiskey Brown Flake tobacco was produced between 1955 and 1970, according to the website Tobacco Collectibles, Old Tobacco Tins and Vintage Cigarette Packets. That's a 15-year window, making it between being 47 and 62 years old.

Player's tobacco was created in 1877 when a 38-year-old seed and manure agent named John Player chose to go full-time with his on-the-side gig of selling tobacco. He did this by purchasing a successful tobacco factory in Broadmarsh, Nottingham, established by William Wright in 1828.

Trinity Knot

As soon as the sale went through, the new owner began drawing up plans to expand, which he named Castle Tobacco Factory. Player chose Radford, Nottingham for his new location, and in 1881 constructed three large factory blocks.

Why he went with three factory blocks instead of one large one was smart thinking. Knowing that his ultimate goal was growth, he built the sweatshops adjacently so that that the company could expand on-sight, when needed, without need of further construction.

Player use only one block in the beginning for the production and packaging of tobacco. He rented out the other two sections to lace manufacturers until Castle Tobacco became big enough to fill all three blocks, a feat accomplished within the first few years.

According to Grace's Guide to British Industrial History, Player was the first tobacco manufacturer to offer pre-packaged tobacco to its customers, making them the first cigarette manufacturer in the world.

Before this, tobacco could only be purchased in loose form. Smokers would purchase it by the bag in grams or ounces. They then would have to either smoke it out of a pipe or purchase a book of papers and roll their own.

In order to get smokers on board with the pre-rolled tobacco, Player adopted various registered trademarks as guarantees to the public that the goods were reliable.

The company's most famous trademark is a blue and white drawing of a sailor's bust, first registered as "Hero" in 1883. Either it, or a jolly drawing of Santa Claus during holiday months, were often featured across the front of Castle Tobacco's advertisements and products. The cartoon symbols were then accompanied by slogans such as: "Smoke Player's Navy Cut", "Player's always Please", "Player's The Present no one ever Exchanges" or "Get Your Player's Please Here."

Catch-phrases like these were plastered everywhere. Within the first few years of Player establishing the brand Player's Navy Cut, available in mild, medium and gold leaf, two-thirds of all tobacco sold in Britain was produced by Castle Tobacco.

And of the three strengths offered, medium cut was by far the most popular.

According to the U.K. Tobacco Brands Library, there were over three thousand other tobacco brands being produced around this same time in Europe. Yet, Player soon held 75 percent of the market, basically owning it.

Despite all his careful plotting and planning toward becoming Europe's captain of the snuff industry, Player himself never got to see how well all his hard work would pay off. But his family would.

Following his death, which occurred shortly after the new site was completed in 1884, Player's sons, John Dane and William Goodacre, took over the business.

They soon introduced dozens of new tobacco flavors and varieties, and in 1893, John and William made a point to show their appreciation for their father on every item that left their factory. From then on, "John Player & Sons" can be found printed before Castle Tobacco Factory on all product labels.

Although things had never looked better for the prominent tobacco business, the Player brothers decided to merge their company with 12 other tobacco manufacturers in 1901 due to competition from the U.S.

These united corporations then became known as the Imperial Tobacco Company and established headquarters in Bristol. Although the majority of the other brands were renamed, ever-popular Player's cigarettes was able to keep its name and trademarked logo of a smoking sailor in a "Navy Cut" cap.

As of today, 140 years after the first one was ever sold, Player's cigarettes are still being produced in Bristol by Imperial Tobacco Company.

Tobacco tins are considered a collectible based on their history. A good condition Player's Whiskey Brown Flake Rubbed Ready tobacco tin, either round and rectangular, are priced online from $2.75 to $12.

Contact writer Tonya Michalec at

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