Major Lewis Ginter, the creator of the cigarette card, was born in New York in 1824.

His early life is now largely lost in the mists of time. What is known is that his father was a successful merchant in a busy community near the mouth of the Hudson. In his early teens he moved to Richmond for the remainder of his life.

His original business venture was the selling of fine linens. There was quite fierce competition in this area and so he developed various sales strategies to increase trade. Some people even credit him with the idea of ‘gift’ wrapping.

He enlisted in the Confederate army during the Civil War. After driving back a Union attack, he gained the attention of General Jackson at the second battle of Manassas. and declined the rank of Lieutenant-General offered him at that time. He later accepted Major, a title he maintained in later years.

After the Civil War he returned to Richmond but the linen trade was not the success it had been previously. Moving to New York he set up a banking business with financial aid from some friends, until the crash of 1873 left him penniless.

Ginter returned to Richmond looking for employment and found it with the firm of John Allen & Co., manufacturers of tobacco. It was customary then to make cigarettes from more expensive foreign tobacco and pipes and chewing were the predominate uses of tobacco.Noticing that cigarettes were becoming more popular, he felt that it would be a cost saving to make cigarettes out of Virginian tobacco.

James Ryan, Center Fielder, Chicago, from World's Champions, Second Series (N43) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes
James Ryan, Center Fielder, Chicago, from World's Champions, Second Series (N43) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes - Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In 1875 John Allen was persuaded to try out this venture. Richmond Gems were created, probably the most famous brand of cigarettes the firm ever had. He employed 20 women to roll and pack the cigarettes, potentially the first time cigarettes were pre-packed.

Major Ginter also created the cigarette card, producing over 80 sets of cigarette cards during the period, 1885-1890 including the set, Women Baseball Players in 1887. Indeed the beautiful sets that were produced by this firm are among the most sort over sets from the early history of cigarette cards. Almost all the early cards had a strong nautical theme, due to the idea that sailors were major consumers of tobacco.

While the Honus Wagner baseball card is the most famous of cigarette cards (recently sold for over $6 million), the English company of HO Wills created many sets of plant and notably rose collectible cards that are reasonably traded on eBay. The backs of the cards contain useful information for the amateur.