Occupying a place on my bookshelf is a slender booklet, now yellowing with age, and there have been several times over the years I have taken it down for a particular reference. The booklet is entitled "The Kings and Queens of England" and it cost ONE PENNY and it was issued by the well-known cigarette firm of John Player & Sons.
Ah!!!!!! but open the pages and inside, in allotted spaces are cigarette cards, colourfully depicting the Kings and Queens of England from 1066 to 1935 (William the Conqueror to King George V). Not only is the thrilling royal story of England depicted, but the memory of collecting the cigarette cards entailing lots of "SWOPPIN’"
Yes indeed, the collecting of cigarette cards (we called them ‘tabcards’) and swopping them with each other was an integral part of our schoolboy days. There were numerous brands of cigarettes on sale then and each brand had a cigarette card in its packet, except Woodbines. There would be 50 cards in a set and feverish ‘swoppin’ took place with most schoolboys in a desire to obtain a set. My word, what subjects were covered too, ‘Do you Know?’ ‘Birds Eggs’ ‘Household Hints’ ‘Film Stars’ ‘Motor Cars’ ‘Footballers and Cricketers’, the list was endless and complete sets today can fetch high prices at auction sales.
We schoolboys on seeing a man smoking would ask, "Have you any tabcards Mister." And no smoking man would throw a cigarette card away knowing he would be asked by a boy for it. How different it is today when no sensible schoolboy would dream of approaching a stranger, but then cigarette cards are now a little bit of our schoolboy history.
Taking their place with cigarette card collecting were MARBLES (we called them "Marps"). Schoolboy pockets bulged with them and mothers would be pestered to make rag bags to put marbles in. Games with cigarette cards and Marbles, though so simple, occupied our leisure playtime. Cigarette card games were "Skimmy on", "Knocky down", "Touchy" etc. Marble games were One for a span, the distance between outstretched thumb and little finger and Two for a hit.
Marbles were about 20 for a penny, these being the common ones with glass marbles (Glassies) a little dearer. There were also "Pot Bobbers" and "Glass Bobbers". The Glass Bobbers were highly prized, for they came out of the neck of the popular lemonade bottle in vogue then, but the bottle had to be broken to get at them whereas a bottle returned to the seller would fetch a halfpenny.
There would be a recognised "Swoppin" rate of exchange between cigarette cards and marbles. A wanted cigarette card a friend had would fetch ten marbles or the equivalent rate in glassies or five marbles for a glassie. I recall the popular woodwork class at Wolfenden Street School, when one of the models we made were ‘Marble Boards’, a shaped length of wood with different sized archways for marbles to be rolled through. How we loved it all. I even recall the woodwork master placing one in position and playing a game with us, they say men always retain the boyhood spirit of schooldays.
"Swoppin", of course, was not only limited to cigarette cards and marbles, the 101 things a schoolboy carried in his pockets came into the picture as well to be swopped and exchanged and I look back on it all as a lovely link of friendship of our schooldays. I am sure too that many schoolboys adept at "swoppin" later used the skills so obtained to achieve high places in the field of commerce and business dabbling in the World markets and on the Stock Exchange.
Looking back on my schooldays, I recall that my father was a ‘Teddy Ashton’ fan. Each year the late Allan Clark published ‘Teddy Ashton’s Annual and how well I remember reading the pages and especially his tales and poems in the Lancashire dialect. Indeed I became enraptured with a poem from those Annual days that I learned it was in demand to recite it a family parties and get togethers. As it is liked to "SWOPPIN" I should like to think dear reader that it will raise a smile.
This is the story of Swoppin Sam
What were fleeced as yessy as t’mother of a lamb.
That nickname growed on him like a leaf on a tree
For allus swoppin and swoppin was he.
He swopped his marbles when he were a lad
An’ his top and whip an’ owt else he had,
He swopped his slate and pencil at skoo,
And once when bathin’ swopped stocking and shoe.
An’ when sent to wark he swopped his job
For a yessier un wi’ idle Bob.
Then he started courtin’ but beaut a wrench
He swopped his girl for another wench.
An’ when he geet wed upon my life
I’m sure if he could he’d ‘a swopped his wife.
He were allus swoppin neet an’ morn
Yo neer seed owt like him sin yo’ were born
He’d ‘a swopped his mother, he’d ‘a swopped his dad
He once swopped their babby, a lass for a lad.
Wheer he’d stop at swoppin’ no mon could tell
An’ it ud ‘a been good thing if he’d ‘a swopped hissel
I dare bet if ever to heaven he gooas
As he’ll swop his harp an’ his angel clooas.
One day to t’city he went feeling big
For his wife ‘ad towd ‘im to buy a pig
An’ hoo’d gan ‘im money i’ silver thick
What hoo’d bin savin’ for mony a wik.
"Neaw Sam" hoo said "Whate’er goo or come
Thee get thi pig an’ come straight whoam".
"Aw reet" he said an’ off he seet
Whistlin’ gaily aw deawn’t street
On t’ road to t’market he managed weel
Ne’er swoppin’ at aw, and reet preawd did he feel
When he bowt his pig, stumped his money deawn
An’ started to dreive it eawt o’t’ teawn.
On on he went feelin’ dreigh i’t’throat
When he met a chap wi’a nanny goat.
An’ they stopped for t’ have a bit of a chat
For surely there were no harm i’ that.
But as they talked Sam felt in his heart
The inclination for swoppin t’ start
An’ then t’ chap said "Theau’s a pig I see,
An’ this ‘ere goat belungs to me;
Neaw I’ll gie thee a bargain, sweet an’ big
I’ll swop thee this nanny goat for thi pig."
"Aw reet" said Sam for he couldn’t resist
An’ could never forget a bargain missed
"I’ll tak thy goat, an’ then t’pig’s thine
An’ that’s a bargain fair and fine."
They parted, ‘im wi’t’pig were lowfin
So very hard that he started cowfin,
An’ Sam could yer ‘im chinkin gay
When he’d getten hauve a mile away.
"Ne’er mind" said Sam to hissel, "Wheer’s t’ joke
I’m certain I’ve done a very good stroke"
An’ on he went wi’ a careless swing
Till he met a chap wi’ a dug on a string.
"By gum" said Sam wi oppenin’ een
"That’s finest dug as ever I’ve seen,
I say here gaffer, let’s look at yore mug
I’ll swop yo’ this nanny goat for that dug".
"Aw reet" said t’fellow an’ a bargain were struck
An’ they parted wishin’ each other luck.
An’ t’chap as ‘ad dug swore he be beawnd
As when it growd up it would sell for ten peawnd.
"Ho Ho" said Sam to hissel again
I’m dooin’ good business neaw an’then
For a paltry pig as weren’t half seawnd,
I’ve geet a dug as ull fetch ten peawnd.
He went on ‘is road wi’t barkin’ cur,
Thinkin’ what a clever chap he were,
Till he met a chap at t’side of a farm
An’ he had two pigeons under his arm.
"By Gum" said Sam, "Thoose brids is a gem
I’d give a good lot for t’have owd o’ them"
So he cries to t’chap "Heigh sithee mon
Neaw here theau’s geet a sweet thing on,
We’ll settle it aw beaut any bids
I’ll swop thi this dug for them two brids."
"Aw reet" said t’chap an’ so they swopped
An’ Sam once more homewards hopped,
But every time a chance he had
He swopped his stuff, good or bad.
Th’ pigeons he swopped for a brooch for t’wife
Thi’ brooch he swopped for a pocket knife,
Thi’ knife he swopped for a penny ring
An’ that he gan for a piece of string.
An’ when he landed whoam at t’fowt
He’d swopped his pig till it came to nowt.
An’ that’s the story of Swoppin’ Sam
If yo durn’t believe it yo know what I am.