Cigarette card test shot
Posted by Martin on March 8, 2009
Over the years I’ve acquired several sets of cigarette cards on the theme of the Napoleonic Wars. The intention has always been tp mount them in frames for display in the study at Bfk HQ. The other thing I’ve also planned to do is photograph them for archival purposes. That part of the plan has gradually been inching towards becoming feasible. First, with the purchase of our second hand (but nevertheless excellent) Nikon D70 DSLR. Then, at Christmas, I received an infra-red shutter release control as a present. Finally, this week, I bought a tripod. Only one step remains before I conduct a full-on photography session – the construction of a home-made light tent.
However, in the meantime, I was keen to test out the kit to see what sort of quality I could achieve. So, this afternoon, I took several test photographs in natural light by the french windows at the rear of the house.
The image shown here is an example of the results. This is card no. 18 of a set of 24 entitled “Napoleonic Uniforms” from Doncella (a division of John Player and Sons, Imperial Tobacco Limited). The set was issued in 1980 and it was probably actually issued with cigars rather than cigarettes. For the record, I’m not a smoker – I purchased this set in an antiques market over ten years ago for the princely sum of four pounds.
This card is captioned “Drummer, 1813: Landwehr infantry of the Rhine”. Which clearly isn’t accurate given that Prussia didn’t raise landwehr in the Rhineland until 29th March 1815. However, if we assume the red provincial colour and white buttons are accurate, this is more likely a representation of an East Prussian landwehr drummer. I think the shoulder swallows aren’t quite right and the drum seems too large but otherwise this is an evocative illustration and in many respects historically accurate.
For your entertainment, I’ll also quote the rest of the text on the rear of the card:
Although eighteen was the lower age limit for enlistment in the Prussian army of 1813, drummer boys several years younger are known to have marched into battle with their regiments – and on at least one occasion a young girl, masquerading as a drummer boy, died on the field of battle (Eleonore Prohasta, 16th September 1813). Deceptions of this kind were facilitated by the haste with which the militia was summoned to arms when Prussia withdrew from the French alliance in January 1813. Within a few months the army of 42,000 – the limit imposed by Napoleon – was expanded to more than a quarter of a million men under arms, albeit poorly clothed, trained and equipped. These were the men who drove Napoleon’s Grand Army back to Paris, and dashed his hopes at Waterloo.
That paragraph leaves quite a lot to be desired in terms of accuracy but it did pique my interest about the drummer girl’s fate. It should come as no surprise that the card is inaccurate about her too. I think it actually refers to Marie Christine Eleonora Prochaska who served with Lutzow’s Freicorps, She was badly wounded in action at Göhrde on 16th September 1813 but didn’t actually die until 5th October 1813 at Dannenberg where her funeral was held. As with so many members of Lutzow’s Freicorp, quite a lot of romantic mythology seems to have built up around Eleonora and there’s a monument to her in Potsdam.
Back to the photography. The focus and resolution are good on the original capture but these cards have white backgrounds and you can see that it has come out rather grey. I think the light tent and a better understanding white balance will help me to fix this problem.