Bury St Edmunds Butterworth & Son tea cards are set to continue with the release of a special retrospective set, one-off-editions and back-issues
When Rob Butterworth placed his first tea card in a box of Bury Blend Tea in 1993, he had no idea of the body of work he would amass over the coming years.
At the time he was running Lorford’s shop in Central Walk, Bury St Edmunds, selling a new tea produced by his grandfather’s Butterworth brand, for whom he had just also taken over the running of the tea and coffee division.
The first set of 12 tea cards were black white photographs of Bury St Edmunds and were carefully hand placed within the packets of the loose leaf tea.
They proved hugely popular.
After sourcing an ingenious team of local artists and designers, he went on to commission and produce a further 80 sets cards over the next 30 years to be included in Butterworth tea, amounting to around 1,000 individual designs.
The last box of tea containing a collectable tea card was sold this month by Butterworth and Son, now run by Rob’s son, also called Robert, from Boldero Road.
Modern production methods for packing and changing trends meant the cards have been dropped from Butterworth tea packets.
Rob Sr, however, is determined to keep the family tradition alive by releasing a 98-card retrospective set, commissioning future one-off themed sets, and offering back issues for collectors.
He said: “My collectable picture card adventure started 30 years ago when I focused on the tea and coffee division of our family enterprise.
“While grandfather had traded in this commodity, we needed something to separate us from our competitors, so we launched a local blend of tea for the regional hard water conditions, which included collectable picture cards.
“The first set of cards was Scenes of Historic Bury St Edmunds, followed by A History of the Suffolk Regiment. They proved popular and 80 different sets with different themes were included in our packets of tea for the next 30 years.”
Robert found inspiration and ideas for cards in a range of topics including sport, military, sci-fi, animals, landscape, culture, history, glamour and railway. He then commissioned his small band of local artists and organised the printing.
He also designed and commissioned novelty sets telling collectable stories he had written himself, alongside visual puzzles, and games.
The card sets varied in number between 8 and 112.
The tea cards have become collectors items all over the UK, as the Butterworth tea and coffee company expanded, with early issues become highly sort after amongst hobbyists, some as far away as America.
“The project has made me master of a thousand illustrations and author of a million words for hundreds of technical descriptions,” said Rob.
“A huge thanks goes to all customers who have supported the tea, and cards project over the years, along with the artists designers who turned my dream into a reality.
“Also thanks to the places and faces I encountered whilst undertaking subject research; and from one-off oddballs to technical experts, they have all been incredible.
“This also includes my wife, Dula, of 53 years, who has modelled within at least seven sets of cards.
“I’m delighted to issue a 98-card anniversary retrospective set of cards, containing at least one from each set over the years, and keep tradition alive for this once enormously popular hobby. I’ll also be commissioning one-off sets and still have a back catalogue of cards from years gone by.
“To paraphrase an earlier Victorian card publisher, it has been well said that a Butterworth collectable card is, an educational gift to the youngster, a handshake to the gentleman, a smile to the lady and a memory to the connoisseur.”
To inquire about the Butterworth Collectable Tea Cards, email at firstname.lastname@example.org