Matchbook Collecting: From The Beatles to The Loch Ness Monster
Before going smoke-free, restaurants routinely distributed free matchbooks emblazoned with their location & logo. After procuring a pile of designs, I started saving matchbooks that I came across or friends would bring me. Soon I had a giant, smelly bunch stored in a plastic bag.
History of Matches
Small sticks of pinewood coated with sulfer, early “matches” were invented in China in AD 577. Jump forward to Paris, 1805: a self-igniting match, lit by dipping it in asbestos, was invented. Not too safe!
Smelly and dangerous "friction matches" were invented in 1826. Finally, a "matchbook" with both matches and a striking surface occurred in 1892 & were sold by the Diamond Match Company.
Matchbook use peaked in the 1940s and 50s, then declined due to disposable lighters and anti-smoking campaigns. Recently, matchbooks have begun to regain popularity. The hobby of collecting matches is known as phillumeny. In 2005, there were over 1800 active collectors in The Rathkamp Matchcover Society.
My matches from California
In 1989 I came out to California for the first time to visit my sister. We splurged and dined at Santa Monica's Valentino's restaurant. I can't recall what I ate. I do recall seeing actor Dudley Moore, star of the original Arthur and 10 films, leaving just as we were. Yes, he was short. We did not disturb him. After a fine evening out, everyone deserves a little peace. I wonder if he kept his matches.
International Matches - Liverpool and beyond
The Beatles & Nessie
Beatles matches from the Merseyside Tourism Board Liverpool, England are one of my favorites; my brother got them while at college in Edinburgh, Scotland. This is as close to the Fab Four or England as I have been.
Another winner: Loch Ness Center matches. Nessie, the famed sea monster from Loch (lake) Ness is certain to exist – at least on the cover of these matchbooks.
Windows On the World - World Trade Center matches
New York's World Trade Center
In the 1980s my sister and I visited the Windows on the World restaurant’s bar, the Liberty Lounge, on the 107th floor of New York’s World Trade Center. As always, I saved the matches. So named because it sported an aerial view of the Statue of Liberty out its tall, glass windows, we made the long elevator trip up just to see it for ourselves. The memories that matchbox brings back today are both haunting and poignant. It’s important to remember the whole world of people who were up there working and who perished that day, September 11, 2001. Gone but not forgotten.
Reverse side of matchbox - World Trade Center
Uniquely designed match sticks
Unique match sticks
Usually I discard the actual matches, only keeping the outer booklets or boxes. These pieces had such unique designs that I also saved the matches themselves.
Leave it to Donald Trump to offer flashy, unique matches for his Atlantic City, New Jersey casino, Trump Plaza. A vibrant red and gold booklet design is complimented by gold tipped matches with red heart and diamond playing card designs on each match.
The everyday design of Border Grill's orange and aqua cover is enhanced by the matching aqua with orange tipped matches inside. These southwestern colors make you want to go back to this Los Angeles restaurant for more.
Nicklow's in Minneapolis combines a classic gold on black column on the jacket with the same Greek column displayed on each match inside. Oopah!
Special Occasion Matches
Sometimes people will use matchbooks to commemorate a special occasion such as a wedding or anniversary. One book of matches I treasure is from the wedding of my parents over 55 years ago, embossed “Bob and Jan, February 20, 1954”. How cool is that?
I also have matches from weddings of some of my friends. That's one way to remember the dates of these events!
New York City matches
My matches from New York City
I've always loved the variety and excitement of New York City. Combine that with another love - food, and you've got a winning combination. From the warm, doughy, salt-encrusted pretzels served streetside, to the best pizza by the slice in the US, New York deserves a hiatus from any strict diet. Above are matchbooks commemorating some of that fine eating.
Jerry Lewis (almost) Ate Here
Minneapolis Restaurants of the Past
Legend has it that Jerry Lewis, in town for a show downtown, sent back his dish at Minneapolis' Cafe Napoli because he eats only white sauce, not red. I found my red sauce there to be just fine.
Anyone in Minneapolis during the 1980s will recognize many of these establishments, long since gone. It's amazing how many restaurants come and go over the years. I certainly had many nice times and calories at most of these locales. Do you remember any of these eateries?
I had my wedding rehearsal dinner at Figlio's in Calhoun Square. Great pasta, sadly, it exists no more.
Positively Fourth Street was a used record shop on the outskirts of the University of Minnesota's Dinkytown area. Named for Bob Dylan's song of the same name, you could pass the time browsing through bins of new and used vinyl here. Bob lived in Dinkytown briefly before heading out to Greenwich Village in New York City to pursue fortune and fame.
Ralph and Jerry's was the local campus market during my college days. Another campus favorite, Station 19 was a converted firehouse turned restaurant near the outdoor football stadium. With brick walls and a fun, cellar-like atmosphere, it was a great place for a dinner or drinks after a game. These places are now just memories - and matchbook covers.
Minneapolis: Past and Present
New Jersey matches
Childhood Memories/My New Jersey matches
Some matches ignite strong memories: back East in the 1980s for his mother's funeral, my Dad and I took a side trip to see the neighborhoods where each of us had grown up. That night we dined at Caughey's in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Now that my Dad is gone too, I'm glad we had the opportunity to share that day and that meal together.
How to Store Matchbooks: 5 Easy Steps
1) Remove the staple that holds the matches to their cover
2) Discard the actual matches
3) Slide the flattened covers into plastic pocket sheets of a three-ring notebook
4) Organize alphabetically, by locale or theme
5) Enjoy. No more worries about a fire hazard or flinty smell. Flip through the compact notebook & recall past times.
New York State & Long Island matches
Places and times gone by can be captured in as simple an item as a box or book of matches. Whether you appreciate their graphic designs, historical significance, or just fancy an ode to caloric consumption, matchbooks can be more fun than you'd think.