Matchbooks have been around since 1892, when Joshua Pusey patented the idea of paper matches, whose tips were dipped in a solution of sulphur and phosphorus and then stapled to a piece of cardboard. The Diamond Match Company promptly purchased Pusey’s patent (he remained Diamond’s attorney for the rest of his life), and in 1894, a company salesman named Henry Traute got his first order for 10 million matchbooks bearing ads for Pabst beer on their covers.

An order for 30 million matchbooks from tobacco maker Bull Durham quickly followed, but despite this early link between matchbooks and advertisers, matchbook companies still expected people to purchase their products. The public balked, in no small part because the first matchbooks were actually quite dangerous—the friction strip was located inside the cover, right next to the rest of the matches. To help assuage the public’s fears, Traute had the friction strip moved to the outside of the matchbook and added the words "Close Cover Before Striking" to the cover.

Widespread acceptance only came after Traute realized that if his matchbooks were given away for free, they could be used to sell other products. Soon matchbooks were offered to customers of tobacco products, or left in the ashtrays of coffee shops and motels for the convenience of diners and overnight guests.

In most cases, it is just the match cover that is collected. Phillumenists, as match cover collectors are known, "shuck" matchbooks by carefully prying open the staple to remove the matches from the cover. The matches are discarded and the covers are stored flat. The only exception to this procedure is for novelty or feature matchbooks, which are matchbooks whose sticks have also been printed.

One of the earliest types of collectible vintage matchbooks were the ones produced for Wrigley’s gum, with designs by Otis G. Shepherd. Collectible, yes, but rare? About a billion were produced.

Some phillumenists collect covers based on the company that made the matchbooks. In addition to Diamond, Atlas, D.D. Bean, Federal, Lion, Monarch, and Ohio all produced collectible covers and features. Many other collectors organize their covers based on category. For example, some people collect covers that have a date on them; others only seek out matchbooks produced for the 1933 or 1939 World’s Fairs.

And then there are the covers for coffee shops and cafes. For some reason, match-cover art is particularly transcendent when it comes to matchbooks for places to eat. The graphic...

Other categories of vintage matchbooks include the ever-popular "girlies," matchbooks printed for all 242 Playboy clubs, and covers featuring different railroad lines and national parks. Thousands of matchbook designs were created during World War II—some covers were patriotic ("Buy War Savings Bonds and Stamps"), and others featured friction strips on caricatures of Adolph Hitler’s ample butt, with the words "Strike On Back Side" printed on the matchbook’s front.

In 1962, government safety rules decreed that friction strips must be moved from the outside-front of a matchbook to the outside back, thus obviating the need for the famous phrase "Close Cover Before Striking." For serious phillumenists, this one act signaled the end of the era of vintage matchbook covers.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Matchbook Museum

Matchbook Museum

James Lileks' gallery of 400 matchbooks from coffee shops, hotels, motels, bars, banks, restaurants and more. Lilek… [read review or visit site]

Match World

Match World

This ambitious site showcases the 20,000-item Rankei Library matchbook collection, owned by the Japan Match Manufac… [read review or visit site]

Matchbox Labels

Matchbox Labels

Jane McDevitt's huge Flickr photoset of matchbox labels, primarily Eastern European, from the 1950s and 60s. These … [read review or visit site]

Kensitas Silk Flowers

Kensitas Silk Flowers

Don Wearmouth and his wife showcase the 230 beautiful silk designs that were distributed free with Kensitas cigaret… [read review or visit site]

Truth in Advertising

Truth in Advertising

This gallery of cigarette magazine advertising from the 1940s and 50s contains no surgeon general's warning, just p… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare 1915 Vintage Handy Box Matches Old General Store Tin Display ~ SignVintage Mint John Deere Fertilizer Matchbook Chemical Co Tulsa Pryor OkJunk Drawer Lot: Keys Locks Railroad Matchbooks Buttons Pins Razors Watch VtgDr Jim Stamps Old Time Bundleware Inside Vintage Match Books No ReserveAntique Civil War Era Wooden Stick Matches W Note & Early Mini Tin Dome Top Box'john Deere', Concord, Michigan, Lion Match Co. 'feature' MatchbookOld Enamel Sign Vintage Advert Swan Vestas Matchbox Match Box Matchbook StrikerVintage Midget Lot Of 250+ Matchbook Cover World Fair Liquor Small Town Gasoline'the Brown Derby Theatre Cafe', Chicago, Ill, Lion Match Co. 'feature' MatchbookCocoanut Grove, Boston: Full Book Of Matches ..very Rare. Bodenhorn DesignWaterman Patrician & Lady Patricia Fountain Pen Adv Feature Matches Matchbook200+ 1920's 30's Antique Match Book Lot Ny New York Radios Food Movies Ge LargeOld Matchbook Cover Ad Fantastic Color , The Oliver Tractor Of 1961Fashion Hosiery Shops Complete Feature Matchbook With Pop-upGriswold Cast Iron Cookware Book Of Matches With Spider Logo Perfect! ShapeHaddon Hall Cigars Feature Match Book Unused - Yahn&mcdonnell CigarsOld Matchbook Cover Ad Flat Advertising Wheel Horse Tractor Nice Tractor & Color 8 Art Deco Sterling Silver Ashtrays And Matchbook CoversGas Station Memorabilia Key Chain Match Book Phillips 66 Gulf Quaker State LotOld Matchbook Cover Great Wheel Horse Tractor , Nice Color, Wimer Of Tipton,ind.Russian Club Troika (washington Dc) Complete Feature Matchbook 10 Vintage People, Places Matchbooks-mickey Mantle's Country Cookin', Capitol'fort Ticonderoga, New York', Lion Match Co. 'feature' Matchbook'zurnoil', Pennsylvania's Finest, Lion Match Company 'feature' Matchbook65 Diff. Chinese Restaurants Front Strike Matchbooks Nice Lot~lqqk Pennsylvania Railroad Switch To Safety Pack Of Matches Mw & S DepartmentWooden Soldiers-russian Restaurant-new York City-1930s Feature MatchbookPhilip Morris Cigarette Pop Up Matchbook Flat Advertising Matchbook Cover Fantastic Colorful Massey-harris Tractor Ad !!!1950's Avalon Tavern Roger & Helen Star Beer Rickardsville Iowa Empty MatchbookOriginal Vintage 1960s Pacific Air Forces Usaf Pistol Conference Matches PatchOld Matchbook Cover Fantastic International Harvester Appliances Ad, Elwood,ind.Las Vegas Nevada Casino Hotel Apache Bar & Cafe Lounge Matchbook Matchcover 1940s House Of Fogarty Show Bar Feature Match Book--essexville Mi'detroit Oxygen And Acetylene Co.', Lion Match Co. 'feature' MatchbookAntique Skelly Matches That Look Like A Motor Oil Can Vintage Advertising Full Matchbook Smoke Tree Ranch Palm Springs, CaS646. Vintage: Set Of 5: Wwii Matchbooks "work To Crush The Axis!" (c. 1940's)'anne Myers', Los Angeles, California, Lion Match Company 'feature' MatchbookMatchbook Cover Fantastic Color, Oliver Tractor Ad Alexandria & Tipton, IndMatchbook Erie Malleable Iron Company, Erie, Pa.Jack Webb Mark Vii Matchbook And Dragnet Match Book 1950s Mansion House & Cottages 21-feature Match Book--new London CtHoward Johnson Motel And Restaurant Matchbooks - Lot Of 26'club Bon Ton', Bay City, Michigan, Lion Match Co. 'feature' MatchbookVintage Antique Rathskeller Ranchouse Feature Lion Matchbook Chapel Hill Nc.cool'morningside Laundry', Lion Match Co. 'feature' Matchbook1930's 1940's Lot Of Six Puerto Rico Ron Rico Ron Venerable Rum Matchbook Cover Matchbook Cover Ad John Deere Tractor Matchbook Landrum Implement,elwood,indianaMatchbook Cover - International Harvester Tractors Girlie Big Lick Motors Inc.~willys-jeep Fs Matchbook Cover Roanoke, VirginiaWw Ii 78th Lightning Division "sparky" C Leon Schlesinger Empty MatchbookTony's Venetian Room 5th & Keo Des Moines Iowa Feature (has 15 Left) MatchbookGienapp Hatchery "baby Chicks Day Old Or Started" Manchester Ia Empty Matchbook1940's Gienapp Hatcheries "baby Chicks" Manchester-dyersville Ia Empty MatchbookVintage Danger No Smoking, Matches, Open Lights Gas Station Metal Sign4 Vintage C. 1930 Football Matchbooks Cards Sports Lot Advertising Antique NrChr Bjelland & Co. Feature Matchbook (1939 World's Fair)Lot Of 13 Vintage Old Coca Cola Coke Matchbook CoversNeat Old 1940's & 50's Miniature Ceramic Salt & Pepper Shaker Singles-no Matches