Brass and tobacco

While there is a clear link between brass bands and alcohol – either in the various bands that supported the temperance movement, or the enjoyment of beer, in particular, that slaked the thirst of players – a similar association with tobacco products was not so evident, though many bandsmen smoked cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco or took snuff.

I am only aware of five British brass bands that were associated with tobacco companies:

  • Wills Tobacco Factory Brass Band (Bedminster, Bristol) – Founded in 1888, conductor G.A. Webb. Still active in 1900.
  • Cope Brothers and Co. Brass Band (Liverpool) – Founded in the early 1880s. Still active in 1887. Conductor J.B. Ridge in 1885. Cope Brothers were tobacco manufacturers.
  • CWS Tobacco Factory Band (Manchester) – A group of workers from the CWS Tobacco Factory got together to form a band in 1900, one which quickly made a name for itself on the concert and contest circuit. In September 1901 Mr J C Cragg, the manager of the CWS tobacco factory, built the ad hoc band of his employees, stumped up £300 for some second hand instruments and made himself bandmaster. It later changed its name to the CWS (Manchester) Band – either in 1937 or 1946 [reports differ]. The band enjoyed considerable success until the Co-op dropped the sponsorship in 1985. A short period as City of Manchester Band followed before finally disbanding in 1993.
  • Hignett’s Tobacco Works Band (Liverpool) – Founded in 1888. Active through to the 1900s.
  • Ogden’s Tobacco Works Band (Liverpool) – Active in 1893.

In the early days of cigarette packets, card were inserted to stiffen the paper packs, these were originally printed with advertisements for the tobacco company, but gradually changed to portray pictures of actresses, sports stars and other popular images. Eventually most manufacturers adopted these cards and produced different sets that people could attempt to collect as they consumed the products. Some of these cigarette cards featured brass instruments, and some examples are given here.

This example is from a set of “Musical Instruments” by Duke’s Cigarettes in the USA around 1898 – portraying a lady tuba player. Other brass instruments featured in that set included a bugle, cornet, coaching horn, french horn, herald’s trumpet, hunting horn, trombone, as well as a selection of drums.


z2 (4)Gallaher’s Tobacco Company issued a set of cards in 1923 entitled “British Champions”. Among these was “Luton Red Cross Band” (number 42 of 100). “Winners of the 1000 guinea trophy at the Crystal Palace in Sept. 1923. Our illustration shows the bandmaster Mr F. Mortimer, with the trophies won by the band.”


Churchman’s Cigarettes (and also Edwards, Ringer & Bigg), both part of Imperial Tobacco, included the set of 25 “Musical Instruments” in 1924. Brass instruments that featured included:

No. 4 “The Bombardon” – “These large valved instruments are indispensable in military and brass bands, to which they contribute the mass of the bass tone. Bombardons or tubas are built in two forms – circular, so that they pass over the shoulder with the bell directed forward; and upright like a large euphonium. These instruments are often regarded as Bass Saxhorns, though strictly speaking they belong to another family; the bore of the Bombardon being wider in proportion to its length, its lowest note is an octave below that of the Saxhorn.”


No. 6 “The Cornet” – “The modern Cornet or Cornet-à-Piston, which was evolved from the Post Horn early in the 19th century, is a brass valve instruments with cup-shaped mouthpiece, intermediate between the Trumpet and the Bugle. Its mouthpiece is larger than that of the Trumpet, and its tone rather less brilliant. The simplicity of its mechanism, and its great technical possibilities have given the Cornet great popularity as a solo instrument. It is often employed in brass bands and occasionally in orchestras in place of the Trumpet.”


No. 21 “The Slide Trombone” – “The earliest Draw or Slide Trumpets were known in England as Sackbuts; the more modern name Trombone being of Italian origin. The Trombone is essentially a simple form of Trumpet, in which the cylindrical tube is lengthened by means of a slide in order to vary the pitch of the note, the instrument being at its highest pitch when the slide is closed. The characteristic big brassy tone of the Trombone is rather more solemn that that of the Trumpet, the difference being chiefly due to the larger mouthpiece.”


Lambert & Butler (from London) merged with Imperial Tobacco in 1901 but retained its own brand name. The “London Characters” set of cards from 1934 featured “The Cornet Player” (number 8 of 25). “A character never lacking in London streets is the Cornet Player, who provides a type of music that draws dogs like a magnet to him. He relies chiefly upon licensed houses for his living, and can usually be recognised by his bulk. Cornet players may be divided into amateurs and professionals, the latter being readily recognised by their superiority in breathing. They receive many requests for an encore of their most popular number “Home Sweet Home” which they so regularly play. Why a bowler or hard felt hat should be part of their uniform, no one has ever been able to discover!”


Two companies produced cigarettes branded “Bandmaster”. The first was Cohen, Weenen & Co. of London, the second Major Drapkin & Co. (also of London).




w1John Player & Sons produced a brand of cigarettes called “Drumhead” – more military in association than “Bandmaster” perhaps, but they should have appealed to all drummers in bands!








Finally, all these tobacco products (apart from snuff) are no good with out a suitable flame to light them. Here are three “trumpet” branded matches – two from Belgium and one from Sweden.


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