IT was a shock find that had one reader thinking they had struck gold.
While he was renovating his north Belfast home this week, Andy Graham had to remove some floorboards in his living room. And when he peered down into the darkness, he saw a small object sitting on the stone foundations.
It was an empty cigarette box – but not like the countless many you see trampled on footpaths and roadsides. This one was pristine, as good as the day it was bought. And that day was in the year 1937.
That’s when the house was built and we can only surmise that one of the builders was enjoying a feg before dropping the box under the floorboards, where he probably thought it would never ever be found. And it wasn’t – for 85 years. It was a tiny box – there were no filters on cigarettes in those days – that had held 10 Players. When you see how beautiful the packet is, it’s little wonder so many people smoked.
Of course, it’s all very interesting, but what exactly has that got to do with nature and Dúlra? Well, when Andy opened the box, he found two cards inside. Have a close look at them, amazingly, they show birds: a spotted flycatcher and a long-tailed tit.
It transpires that the cards came with the cigarettes in a collector’s promotion. The manufacturers hoped people would keep buying their brand in a bid to collect all 50 cards, each showing ‘Birds and Their Young’. You could then order the brochure and stick each card in – they have an adhesive back. And those pretty boxes and cards obviously worked – by the 1940s, eight out of 10 men and four out of 10 women were addicted to cigarettes.
It's funny that in the 1930s, they used wild birds to make something more attractive to customers. Today, sadly, birds would be the furthest thing from a marketer’s mind.
For Andy’s part, his mind was on something completely different. Would something so old – and in such perfect nick – be worth money?
He Googled ‘cigarette cards value’ and his heart nearly stopped. At the top of the search was a cigarette card which was sold at auction for $6.6 million! But he was soon brought back down to earth – that card was of a baseball player which was sold in packets made by the American Tobacco Company around 1910. Unfortunately, cigarette cards of Birds and Their Young aren’t quite so rare – they’re on sale on eBay for £2.50!
The two birds pictured in Andy’s box are beautiful, especially because the paintings show their nests and chicks. But it’s clear from the full list of 50 birds that over the intervening decades, what were once common birds have seriously declined. Even the spotted flycatcher – cuilire liath – is a rarity today.
Dúlra has seen the odd one, when he was young they nested along the Glen Road, but not today. The last spotted flycatcher Dúlra saw was in a church ground in Glenavy about five years ago.
The second card in Andy’s box is equally special. Long-tailed tits live all around us – Dúlra saw a flock in the middle of Belfast city centre this week on bare trees near St George’s market. But for some reason, unlike its cousins the blue, great and coal tit, it rarely comes to gardens. It’s a bird that just won’t be domesticated – and that’s why it’s Dúlra’s favourite of the four.
Today, not many adults would be interested in information about birds, never mind collecting cards for a brochure.
But it’s the completed brochure that really impresses. It’s packed with information about each bird and when the 50 colourful stickers are attached, the whole thing is brought to life. You can buy it online for about £15 online, and Dúlra is seriously considering it.
Or maybe Andy could tear up a few more floorboards – you never know what’s down there!
• If you’ve seen or photographed anything interesting, or have any nature questions, you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804.