Will and Sam Poluski were so well known in their day that they featured on all manner of ephemera. They appeared on postcards and cigarette cards – the equivalent of later PG Tips tea cards or the more recent Match Attax and TV show and movie tie-in collectible card collections.
This card was No. 45 in a set of 50 cards from Cope Brothers called Music Hall Artistes produced in 1913. The image shows Sam and Will in the costumes they wore as Sexton Blake and Sherlock Holmes in the panto Babes in the Wood. There will be more on Panto on Swing the Gate later in the year.
The reverse of the card gives some information about the Poluskis:
The Poluski Brothers, who come of four generations of performers, are natives of London, and made their first appearance at Brighton when they were little more than infants. The can boast great popularity in America, Australia, South Africa and the continent. Their comedy work is seen to best effect in pantomime. Their best and latest acts are “The Black Sheep” and “The Territorials”.
The pair was a global hit. Other stars in the Cope cigarette card series were such music hall luminaries as Little Titch, Marie Lloyd, Florrie Ford, Wilkie Bard and Bransby Williams.
Cope Brothers was a tobacco firm that started in Liverpool in 1848 and traded until 1952 when it was taken over by Gallaher. It was innovative in both its approach to marketing and to its favourable treatment of its female workforce at a time when factory conditions for women were generally very poor.
As well as cigarette cards the Poluskis also featured on postcards like this one.
The card was created by Raphael Tuck and Sons Ltd, a postcard publisher which started as a husband and wife team based in a small shop on Union Street, Bishopsgate, London in 1866. Visit the Tuck database for more on the history of the company.
Raphael Tuck & Sons Ltd grew into the largest postcard publishers in the world and continued to the 1980s when it combined with two other companies to become Maxwell Communications Corporation. Tuck postcards are highly collectible and cover just about any subject you can think of.
The Poluski card was part of a set of postcards called The Variety Stage. It featured real photos of Victorian music hall artists. It was first used in February 1902. Other stars featured in the set included Dan Leno, Gus Elen, Eugene Stratton, RG Knowles, Marie Lloyd, Vesta Victoria, Marie Loftus, Vesta Tilly and Paul Cinquevalli.
The photos were taken by Langfier Ltd, the business of Louis Saul Langfier a specialist theatrical photographer with studios in Bond Street in London which featured a raked stage that could hold 40 people at a time – state-of-the-art promotional tactics in Victorian London.
Cards – postcard and cigarette – featuring Will and Sam Poluski chart the brothers’ careers from the Victorian free and easy through to the plush Edwardian variety theatres popular until after WWI; a career spanning more than 30 years.