SpColl 14: Matchbook Cover Collection


Patented in 1892 by lawyer Joshua Pusey, the matchbook, a seemingly insignificant piece of cardboard enclosing a handful of disposable paper matches, quickly became the staple advertising space at the dawn of the 20th century. Beginning with beer company Pabst and tobacco company Bull Durham, businesses big and small started to purchase printings of books from match companies such as Diamond and Ohio which found their way into millions of coat pockets, hotel rooms, and restaurant ashtrays.

As the butane lighter usurped the match as the portable cigarette light of choice and radio and television became the new frontier of advertising (not to mention the decline in the ubiquity of smoking), matchbooks fell out of favor, now only commercially used as a boutique novelty advertisements for high-end or niche establishments hoping to invoke a sense of the past. Collectors known as phillumenists (“lovers of light”) still seek out the cardboard rectangles, however, for reasons as diverse as the pictures on their covers. For some, the images on the matchbooks are art in and of themselves; for others, the specific company advertised is of interest, or the category of good and services. Still others attempt to complete sets of novelty books, with the matches themselves printed with or in the shape of such images as bowling pins or ladies’ stockings, or commemorative books, featuring images of historical figures or celebrating such events as a World’s Fair. Whatever the reason, people have come to adore the matchbook in the same way as the baseball card, as a snapshot in history.


Location Category Description
Box 1 Automotive, Gasoline & Oil Contains matchbooks representing a wide variety of products and providers that center on the automobile, ranging from motor oils to service stations to the automobiles themselves and their dealers. Major car brands such as Chevrolet, Buick, and Ford are included, as well as iconic oil and gas companies like Shell, Esso, and Sinclair. Many smaller, local service stations and dealerships are featured as well.
Box 2 Industrial, Tools & Farming Contains matchbooks advertising mostly commercial and industrial products and services. These include precision parts, chemicals, heavy machinery, and factories. Farming-related products mainly include fertilizer, seeds, and heavy equipment. Also included are a number of fuel ads, mainly involving coal.
Box 3 Banking, Insurance & Real Estate Contains matchbooks depicting providers of finance-based services. Due to the relatively recent federal laws allowing nationally chartered banks, the majority of examples are for local institutions, although a few major companies, such as State Farm Insurance, are represented. Examples range from banking to mortgage lending to life insurance policies.
Box 4 Clothing & Accessories Contains examples of products and retailers for both men and women. Included are matchbooks advertising specific brands and specific items of clothing (e.g. shirts or pants) to those advertising large clothing stores. Also includes are books representing jewelry and watches, as well as footwear and overwear, such as fur coats.
Box 5 Casinos, Resorts, Vacations & Travel Contains examples of matchbooks representing companies and locations involved in the travel industry. Included are transportation organizations, such as bus lines, airlines, and boating companies. Also included are resorts, casino, cruises, and other destination location. A small number of matchbooks advertising a specific city or state by the location itself are included, such as an ad for Pasadena, California by the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce.
Box 6 Lodging Contains matchbooks representing various hospitality providers. Examples range from large hotel to small motor inns, including large “chains” such as Hilton or Best Western, as well as smaller, local establishments and singular, iconic places such as the Waldorf-Astoria hotel.
Box 7 Theatre, Lounges & Clubs Contains matchbooks advertising for establishments offering social entertainment. Included are dance halls, gentlemen’s clubs, and other such venues. Clubs within hotels are included. Well-known locations, such as the Playboy Club and the Copacabana are represented.
Box 8 Restaurants, Cafes &  Diners Contains matchbooks representing eateries both formal and informal.  Included are examples depicting “chain” establishments such as White Castle, “hole-in-the-wall” eateries, and local landmarks such as the Phil Smidt & Son Inc. restaurant from Indiana.
Box 9 Bars Contains examples of matchbooks advertising locations devoted to the serving of alcoholic beverages. These include those referred to as bars, saloons, taverns, and pubs. This category is comprised almost entirely of local establishments.
Box 10 Schools, Organizations & Associations and Sports & Leisure Included are matchbooks representing all manner of clubs and voluntary associations. Examples include books promoting individual colleges, such as Purdue University or the University of Chicago, books promoting fraternal organizations, such as the Elks, and those commemorating group conventions.  Sports & Leisure venues are also represented.
Box 11 Political Contains examples of matchbooks engaging in the political dialogue. A large portion of the books in this category are campaign advertisements and war effort announcements (war bonds, etc.) Also included are activist messages and commemorations of rallies and conventions. Of particular interest are a handful of matchbooks focused on the British Royal Family, including the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the 1937 coronation of King George VI.
Box 12 Food, Beverages, Grocery Stores & Alcohol Contains examples of consumable foodstuffs and the establishments which sell them. A large variety of products are represented, including bread, produce, and coffee, including a variety of brands. Several major brands are depicted, including Crush and 7-Up sodas and Hunt’s condiments.
Box 13 Drug Stores, Pharmacies, Medicine & Toiletries Contains examples of a gamut of personal care products and establishments. Mostly comprised of drug stores and pharmacies, the category does include a sizable number of products from well-known brands such as Mennen and Alka-Seltzer. Also included are a small number of matchbooks advertising medical offices and more specialized medical supplies, such as hearing aids.
Box 14 Laundry, Department Stores, Florists, Barber/Beauty Shops & Funeral Contains examples of matchbooks advertising local personal service establishments. Included are a number of dry cleaners and laundry services, many targeting a specific demographic. While the majority of examples in this category are local services, there are some examples of larger stores such as Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward.
Box 15 Tobacco, Matches Ads, Shipping/Mailing, Printing, Photography, Radio, Film, TV, Music, Phone & Miscellaneous Contains matchbooks representing both manufacturers and purveyors of tobacco products. Examples range from major cigarette brands such as Camel, Winston, and Salem to boutique cigars. Of particular interest is an example from Germany advertising a local tobacconist. As well as matchbooks representing a wide variety of products and services. Included are shipping companies and truck fleets, printing companies, stamp advertisements, and matchbooks selling matches or presenting possible advertising space. Of particular interest is a German matchbook representing the match brand Jupiter, printed with language presenting the matches as legal under monopolizing regulation passed under the Nazi regime. And contains examples of products involved in home entertainment and furnishing. Included are representations of both television and radio models, as well as specific programs broadcast to the devices. Furniture ranges from chairs and coaches to rugs and drapes. Of particular interest is a Guatemalan advertisement for Atwater Kent radios.
Box 16 Automotive, Gasoline, Oil, Industrial, Tools, Farming, Fuel, Hardware, Lumber, Appliances, Banking, Insurance, Real Estate, Clothing & Accessories Contains matchbooks of larger sizes from within the categories contained in Boxes 1-4
Box 17 Casinos, Resorts, Vacations, Travel, Lodging, Theatres, Lounges & Clubs Contains matchbooks of larger sizes from within the categories contained in Boxes 5-7
Box 18 Sets, Themes, Restaurants, Cafes, Diners & Bars Contains matchbooks of larger sizes from within the categories contained in Boxes 7-9
Box 19 Schools, Organizations, Associations, Sports, Leisure & Political Contains matchbooks of larger sizes from within the categories contained in Boxes 10-11
Box 20 Food, Beverages, Grocery Stores, Alcohol, Drug Stores, Pharmacies, Medicine, Doctors, Toiletries, Laundry, Dept. Stores, Florists, Barbers, Beauty Parlors, Funeral Services, Tobacco, Matches, Ads, Shipping, Mailing, Books, Printing, Photography, Radio, Film, TV, Music, Telephone & Misc. Contains matchbooks of larger sizes from within the categories contained in Boxes 12-15
Box 21 Matchboxes Contains matchboxes representing a variety of themes, places of origin, and sizes.
Box 22 Miscellaneous Contains one small box of novelty matchbooks and boxes, 4 albums of matchbooks containing multiple categories of subject, and a small number of documents relating to organizations involved in the collection of matchbooks.

Updated: 06/05/2023 09:23AM