Matchbooks are certainly one of the most-collected paper ephemera items. Even as smoking declines, the book of matches remains as common as a coin and familiar as a photo. Far less common, however, are the matchboxes—the wooden, sliding cases which held stick matches. Approaching extinction today (except in upscale hotels and bars) wooden matchboxes were created in quantities rivaling postage stamps, and there is an active group of collectors today seeking scarce examples.
“Phillumenists” collect matchbooks, and “phillumeny” is the term for the hobby. I suppose every phillumenist started out playing with matches. Exciting, magical, taboo, and punishable sticks of fire. Father would leave a pack on the couch armrest, and there would soon be smoke in the backyard. Every boy goes through it, but it isn’t until Cub Scout campfires he is allowed to carry them with permission. I do not know if any matchbox collectors have been proven to be responsible for starting wildfires.
Who knows what influences a collector? Maybe every time a parent yells, “That’s sharp!” a knife collector is born.
It makes sense the Chinese invented matches, as they have generally been credited with many things pyrotechnic. They called them “light-bringing slaves” or “fire-inch sticks” which were basically sulfer gobs on wood. Today, they are most often known as “safety” matches. “Impregnated” is the term used for a match stick which has been treated with chemicals to prevent afterglow, you will see the term proudly displayed on many boxes.
Of course, it is the graphics, the scarcity, and the condition which drives collectors today. If I were a collector, I would likely have better examples to show here, but all mine came at once … in a wonderful, primitive scrapbook of one Lowell E. Root.
Lowell collected around 100 examples and glued them into his book in 1926, he took the time to date it. One page is shown … Lowell carefully numbered each example, a splendid group, which he probably begged from his traveling relatives and neighborhood friends.
Every young boy should have a collection. Lowell seems to have chosen a striking one!