‘Plain packaging’ for soldier’s cigarettes

Mementoes from first World War soldiers include brass boxes with tobacco and cigarettes presented as Christmas presents for the troops at the request of Princess Mary

The monthly auctions at John Weldon Auctioneers in Dublin's Temple Bar are best-known for jewellery, silver and items consigned by the city's three pawnbrokers. Quirky items often turn up. This Tuesday's auction (February 24th at 2pm in the saleroom in Cow's Lane) features a first World War soldier's mementoes including a telegram, dated July 30th, 1914, to a James W Boddy of Clapham (London) with the ominous message: "Return to Barracks at Once. Commodore." Little could either man have known what lay ahead. The lot, estimated at €150-€250, includes "Princess Mary's Christmas Gift Tin, 1914, with contents, Cigarettes, Tobacco, & Cards".

The brass boxes were made as Christmas presents for the troops at the request of Princess Mary – daughter of King George V – who launched a public appeal to fund the project in 1914. The boxes were mass produced and shipped to soldiers serving overseas. The lid is embossed with a profile of the princess and the words Imperium Britannicum (British Empire). Each was filled with a packet of 20 cigarettes, a foil- wrapped pack of pipe tobacco (both in yellow plain packaging), a photograph of Princess Mary and a card inscribed "With Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas and a Victorious New Year. From The Princess Mary and Friends at Home."

Many of the boxes have survived and occasionally turn up for sale – but, not surprisingly, rarely with the cigarettes and tobacco intact.