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    

Lot Of 700+ Midget & Ten Strike Match Book Covers & Binder AlbumsCarnival Room Lounge San Diego Ca Unused Feature Girlie Spot Striker MatchbookLot Ashtray Erotic Risque Girlie Pinup Matchbooks Smoking Coasters Old VintageTropics Nite Club Denver Co Unused Feature Girlie Front Strike MatchbookFeature /spot Striker /girlie The Roundup Cowgirls # F-190-v Full MatchbookMassive Matchbook Cover Lot Mostly Early Several Manufacturers + 10,000 CoversThe Shadow Radio Show Pop Up Matchbook Cover Anson Cooke Coal Methuen Nj20 Black Americana Front Strike MatchcoversVintage Twin Slit Book Match Cover Collection 300+ Matchcovers Very Rare OnesLot Of 3 Detroit Match Covers - 1956 & 1957 With Detroit Tigers Game Schedule2,600+ Matchcovers - Closeout!Large Lot #2, 200+ Matchbooks, 1930's-50's, Good AssortmentVintage Trader Vic's Oakland San Ca Feature Matchbook Unstruck Full45 Unused Matchbooks From The 50's/ 60's Aloha Cocktail LoungeMatchbook, Polynesian Girl Fishing, Luau 400 Restaurant, Click, C.1959, N.y.c.Harman's Restaurant Matchbook Cover Yakima Wa Rare Kentucky Fried Chicken Lot Of 975 Vintage Rathkamp Collector Match Book Covers & Binder AlbumFeature /display /girlie The Brown Derby # F-157 Full MatchbookRailroad Matchbook D&h 4 PackYoo Hoo Chocolate Drink Soda Matchbook Cover Yogi Berra Ny Yankees BaseballLarge Lot Of Over 200 Vintage Matchbook / Match Covers 40+ Hillbilly / Much More35 Diff Girlies, Pinups Unstruck Matchcovers1940s Macedon & Palmyra Ny Girlie Advertising Matchbook Yellow Mills Diner Neat!Florigold Oranges Grapefruit Matchbook Cover Indian River Fl Flo GirlieDr. Pepper At 10-2&4 Cola Soda 1950's Matchbook Advertising Good ConditionMatchbook, Girlie, Bicycle / Whizzer Motorcycle, Low Phone, Pa, 1943, Full BookEsslinger "little Man" Beer Match BookVintage Match Books Lot Of 33 "shifty's Cocktail Lounge" Las Vegas Nevada Romanoff's Restaurant Beverly Hills California 1950's Matchbook100 United States Military Front Strike Matchcovers - MilitaryGrand Rapids Mi Vtg Front Strike Advertising Matchbook Boxing Souvenir Wes RameyTick Tock Diner Clifton New Jersey Vintage Matchbook CoverSunoco Nu-blue New Miracle Of Gasoline Chemistry Mint Matchbook-1930's Lot Of 568 Vintage Tobacco Cigar Cigarette Match Book Covers & Binder Album50 Girlie Pin Up Front Strike Matchcovers - Classic Pin Up GirlsOriental Garden Restaurant Matchbook Cover Haverhill Ma Tiki15 Volkswagen Automobile Dealer Matchcovers - VwF & S Beer - Ale - Porter Matchbook Cover - Shamokin PaVintage Lot Of 8 Casino Hotels Las Vegas Reno Chicago Matchbooks 650 ++ Nos Vintage Advertising Matchbooks ~ Extremely Great Rare Lot ~1967 Rebellion Monaco Polara Girl 500 Dodge Boys Match Book Cover Dealer PromoPost News Stand Matchbook Cover Frederick MdBrooklyn New York Football Club Schedule Matchbook Cover YankeesMatches Tiki Lounge Don Tiki Sailing Boat Matchbook Lake Tahoe Palm SpringsVespa MatchbookEnoch Chevrolet Co. - South Gate, Ca California Front Strike MatchcoverMinnegasco 1816-1966 150th Anniversary Matchbook. Minneapolis, MinnesotaKark Milling Co. Match Cover W/1967 Minnesota Twins Baseball Schedule On Reverse1940s Ihc Mccormick-deering Tractor Advertising Matchbook Bell Bros Newell Ia Nr1964 San Francisco Giants Baseball Schedule Matchbook Cover New Jersey Bell Telephone Yellow Pages Pop Up Matchbook Cover Hitler Beast Of Berlin Movie Matchbook Cover HollywoodLot Of 25 John Deere Kubota Euclid Tractors Etc Vintage Advertising MatchcoversRailroad MatchbooksGirlie / Hercules Explosives & Blasting Casper Wy Listed # 1459 MatchcoverVintage Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer Match BookMajestic Hotel Full Length Matchbook Matchcover - Hot Springs, Arkansas33 Diff Louisiana Pictured Restaurants/lodging Front Strike Unstruck MatchcoversVintage Kentucky Fried Chicken Matchbook, Unused And Mint - Made In Cincinnati1939 World's Fair - New York - Match Book - Souvenir - Constitution Mall