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    

Feature Matchbook - Hot For Hitler - World War Ii - Army - Matchcover Lot Of 1100 Vintage Girlie Pinup Matchbook Cover Small Town Rathkamp Wwii NudesJohn Deere Chemical Fertilizer Matchbook Farm Barn Tractor Sign Omaha Nebraska200 Premium ~ Very Old~ Large Lot Of Matchbook Covers! See It!! WowWw2 German The Box Of Matches !!! +++++1888 Diary Toronto Canada Travel To Detroit Lacrosse Matches Young Woman HandwriDisney Frozen Olaf Character Key Cel Set 500 Limited Edition Matches Elsa Anna10 Complete Feature Matchbooks - Black Americana, Bowling, Big Boy, Boots +The Modern Library 1940 Random House Feature Matchbook BooksVintage John Deere Tractor Matchbook Gorham, Ny (unstruck)Gar Grand Army Of The Republic Original Box MatchesOld Vintage Baseball Mickey Mantle Front Strike Matchbook Holiday Inn Unused NrOriginal Box Of 46 Nos John Deere Dealer MatchbooksVintage Gump's Shelby,ohio Proto Tools "los Angeles" Matchbook "unstruck"2 Nos Vintage 1974 Ski-doo Snowmobile Advertising Matchbooks ~ Hibbing MinnesotaAntique Soviet Russian Souvenir Box Of Matches With Kremlin Views Circa 1958Eddie Cantor Personal Appearance Advertising Feature Matchbook Loew's CapitolVintage Matchbook Cover Lot International Tractor Oilzum Oil Stetson Hat & MoreVintage Moulin Rouge Las Vegas Front Strike MatchbookNos Vintage 1969 Polaris Rupp Snowmobile Advertising Matchbook ~ Hibbing Minn.Oliver Oc-126 Loader Full Matchbook # 2Lot Of 125+ Vintage MatchesVintage Rare Disneyland Aunt Jemima's Kitchen MatchbookVintage Military Warplane Sweetheart Pins Political Ship Match Book LotSix Vintage Full Feature 21 Matchbooks - Lion Match Co.Vintage Giant Feature Matchbook - City Cafe - Christmas (lion Match Co)Lot Of 27 Vintage Railroad - Train Related Matchbooks/matchcoversVintage Starck Club MatchbookVintage Matchbook Cover - Frank's Motorcycle Shop Harley Davidson Rhinelander WiLot Of 290 Vtg U.s.casino ,restaurant Matchbooks ~ Mostly Las Vegas Lot Of 30 Ww2 Military Matchbook Covers, Army Air Corp, Etc.Huge Lot 450 1980s 1990s Matchbooks Many Vegas Casino Restaurant Tobacco ++T895. Vintage: Lot Of 8 Pin Up Girl Matchbooks Made In The Usa ~Rebels, Montgomery Baseball Club Municipal Stadium, 1954 Schedule MatchbookMatchbook Massey-harris Twin Power TractorsVintage Clarke Troller Outboard Motor Matchbook Cover Sexton Lansing MichiganSolid Brass Pineapple Trinket Matches Container 7" High 3" DiameterHamm's Beer "blue Griffin Lion" Matches In Original Box (32)2 Boxes Of Ohio Blue Tip Strike Anywhere Matches Damp Proof 500 Wood MatchsticksProsthetic Leg Feature Matchbook Louis Yellin Philadelphia Old Front Strike Feature Matches The Islander Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel "parrot"Vintage Paper Avis Rent A Truck Ephemera Hanover Nh New Hampshire Match Book Vintage 1900s Balsa Wooden Matches Box Bull Dog Dogs Playing Poker W/ Monkey4 Girlie Matchbook Covers - Raised Breasts - NudesGirlie/ Feature /tiki Club Bali # F-18 E Shows Nightly Miami Fl MatchbookVintage 1950s Wisconsin Us Senator Joe Mccarthy Campaign Pinback Button Matches650+ Matchbooks Boxes Lot Boac Alaska Steamship Japan Sambos MoreCoon Chicken Inn MatchbookEsskay Hot Dogs Feature Matchbook Baltimore Orioles Sponsor Vintage Smokey Bear Poster Smokey's Friends Don't Play With Matches Dated 1971Lot Of 300+ Vintage Front Strike Advertising Matchbooks All Unused Mostly UsaRare Lanai Tiki Bar Villa Chartier Hotel San Mateo Ca Ashtray & Matches Set!52 Nos Vintage Liberty Oil Co. Gasoline Old Service/filling Gas Station Matches Six Vintage 15 Feature Matchbook - Lion Match Co.Lot Of 9 New York City Related Matchbook CoversVintage Front Strike Feature Matches Hotel Sahara Casino Las Vegas Sutton Products Corp Wine & Liquor New York Ny Vintage Feature Matchbook Cover7 Super Premium Chinese Matchbook Covers ~art~ Crown Match Co.15 Soda Matchbooks Matchcovers Fruitport Mi. Fruitport Pavilion Matchbook Cover