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    

Vintage Coon Chicken Inn Matchbook Unused With Feature Matches Salt Lake City UtInternational Harvester Ih Dealer Matchbooks Lot Of 47 In Original Box UnusedGirlie Feature Matchbook - The Nut Club, Greenwich Villiage, New YorkHuge Collection Of 650+ Old 1930's-60's Matchcovers And Matchbooks 60 Early Advertising Matchbooks Midwest Us ~ Jayhawk - Gas- Railroad - Baseball1941 Wwll Nine Mint Strike Adolf Hitler Matchbooks In Mail Box Buy War BondsMatchcovers Toms River Jersey City Ocean City Mbc Old Matchbook Lot MatchcoverArt Nouveau Lucifer Box/ Box For Matches"original" Civil War Matches54 Early Advertising Matchbooks ~ Midwest Us ~ Railroad - Coke - Beer Feature Matchbook 1930s 40s Lew Mercur's Nut Club Miami Beach Fla Full Book1950's Brown Derby Restaurant Menu W/napkin, Matchbook & Sugar Pack - Hollywood1930s Advertising Feature Matchbook Benny The Bum's Night Club 1 Missing MatchLion Giant Feature Matchbook Silver Springs, Fl Unused Cond. Very Nice!Ih International Harvester Louisville Ky Matchbook Matchcover Farmall Safety Publix Supermarket Vintage Matchbook, Mint, Unstruck! Mixed Lot 120 Diff. Chinese Restaurants Fs Matchbook Covers Great Lot~lqqk Vintage Dean Martin Dino's Lodge MatchbookVintage 1960s Lot Of Playboy Club Mugs, Ashtray, Matches, Saucer, And SpoonVintage Large Search Light Matches Diamond Co Wood Crate Shipping Box RailroadL689- Lot Of Vintage Matchbooks- Advertising Political Etc- Coke, Etc. 20 Bryant & May Matchbook Covers - Beers/drinks Including Shepherd Neame CricketVintage Matchbook Cover: Art's Restaurant, Frederick, MdGiant Size Full Unstruck Matchbook New York Worlds Fair 1939300 Vintage Match Book & Cover Lot Advertising Beer Soda Gum Bars More WisconsinGirlie/feature/sample Paradise Matches Has No Match Tips MatchbookOld Vintage Ih International Harvester Dealer Matchbook Covers Ms,ks,colo. Wyo.1945 Brooklyn Dodgers Schedule Matchbook -sonny & LouieVintage Rare Gay Leather Levi Biker Bar The Lure New York City Nyc Matchbook Vintage 1940's-1950's Complete Unused Box Of 48 Sexy Pinup Match Books2 National Hockey League Matchbook Covers Of Maurice "rocket" Richard MontrealChina National Aviation Corp Cnac Matchbook Cover Chiclets AdD975. Vintage: Myers' Cocktails And Buy War Bonds Matchbooks Set Of 2 (1940s)6 Christmas Holiday Lion Giant Feature Matchbooks Great Cond. B&o + Sales PromoMatchbook Covers Caribair Airlines & Chiclets Ad1939 Boston Bees Nl Schedule Matchbook - New Bedford MaVintage Matchbook Dobbs House Tiki Polynesian Restaurant Full Fs Nc Tx Tn Fl Vintage Rare Gay Bar Parliament House Matchbook MatchesIh International Harvester Brussels Belgium Matchbook Matchcover RareRoyal Restaurant Annapolis Md Matchbook Matchcover Cat And Fiddle Club New Orleans La Matchbook Matchcover 2 Gentelmens Club Matchbook Girlie Matchbook, NudeVintage Lot Of New York City Area Matchbooks BrooklynGirlie Pin Up Girls 40's 50's 60's Matchbook Covers Lot 23Lot Of 8 Vintage Las Vegas Matchbooks Dunes- Riviera -flamingo- La ConchaVintage Green Trader Vic Drink Stirrer Swizzle Stick And Matchbook Puerto Rico.Valley Forge Special Beer Matchbook Cover-norristown PaLion Giant Feature Matchbook Jack's Little Green Card Horse Racing Unused Nice!Vintage Hawaiian Luau Tiki Bar Restaurant Matchbook New Orleans Fontainbleau5 Printed Sticks Hyatt Kansas City-independence Bank-georgia & Matchbook Cover Vintage 1940's-1950's Complete Unused Box Of 48 Sexy Pinup Match Books1930's American Auto Acc Heddon Fishing Tackle Ann Arbor Mi Empty Matchbook1940's Hotel Del Monte Carl S Stanley Golf-trap Shooting-polo Ca Full Matchbook80's Vintage Russian Soviet Matchbook Matchbox Set With Communist Memory Freeze-king Frederick Md Matchbook Matchcover Ice CreamThe Sweet Shoppe Frederick Md Matchbook Matchcover Hamburgers1960s Matchbook Watson's Family Restaurant Patrick Shopping Center Frederick Md 3 Sports Hockey Matchbook Covers (guy Lafleur, Henri Richard And Mario Tremblay)Nice Lot Of ((58) 1930s Risque,club,diner,oil,cafe,advertising Matchbook Covers 1940s Matchbook Undertaker's Supply Co Chicago Jim Hyland Phone 3287 Marlboro Ma