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    

Wwii Vtg Feature Matchbook Advertising World War 2 War Bonds Hitler Nazi GermanyButte Beer Feature Matchbook - Beer Bottle Match SticksCool Vintage Full Feature Pbr Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer Matchbook! Wow!Original Marilyn Monroe 1947 Earl Moran Matchbooks Matchcover Calendar Photo LotVintage Jack Dempsey Boxing Old Feature Matchbook Advertising Souvenir New York50 Sports Matchcovers - Players, Teams, Stadiums +Vintage Liquor Spirits Advertising Ron Carta Vieja Rum Bottle Feature Matchbook40 Girlie "single" Matchcovers - Not From Sets50 Gasoline Front Strike Matchcovers - Many Different Gasoline Brands170 Universal Match Co. Royal Flash Front Strike Matchcovers - 40 Strike Size24 Contour Front Strike Matchcovers - Great Shapes & DesignsDon Q Puerto Rican Rum Feature Matches Matchbook Bottle Shaped Matches Unused50 Railroad Front Strike Matchcovers - Many Different Railroad LinesCool Vintage Full Feature Automotive Ford Car Golden Bros Matchbook! Wow!100 Ship & Cruise Line Matchcovers - ShipsOliver Oc-126 Loader Full Matchbook Bobby Meekers French Quarter Lounge Houston Tx Girly Feature Matchbook Cover Lot Of 50 Vintage Rose Bowl Chicago Il Feature Matchbooks Girly Nos Mint100 United States Military Front Strike MatchcoversErcoupe Memrobilia Matchbooks Whole Box Full Of 24 Collectors AviationVintage 7up 7 Up Advertising Old Front Strike Matchbook Medical Cure Medicine100 Coal Company Front Strike Matchcovers - CoalHanover, Pa Rolling Rock Beer / Pin Up Girl Matchbook And AshtrayToto's Blimp Dine Dance Matchcover Northampton Holyoke Hy Ma Tape BacksideCool Vintage Full Feature The Milk Farm Restaurant California Matchbook! Wow!Cool Vintage Full Feature Ralph Johnson Rig Company New Mexico Matchbook! Wow!Girlie /feature Silver Springs # F- 64 Girlies In Swimsuits Matchbook Giant "feature" Matchbook. Oldsmobile Dealer.pic Of Old's Rocket On Match Sticks3 Diff U.s. Gambling Ships (tango, Rex) Struck Matchcovers50 Oldsmobile Automobile Dealer Matchcovers - Oldsmobile50 Automobile Dealer Matchcovers - Studebaker, Packards, Hudson, Jeep, Mg +Vintage Antique Junk Drawer Lot Paper Advertising Pens Matchbooks Prr CupsGrand Rapids Mi Vtg Matchbook Michigan Advertising Ford Cars Mobilgas Mobil Gas1940's Stork Diaper Service Richmond Va. 21 Feature Lion Matchbook UnusedCool Vintage Full Feature Sands Casino Las Vegas Matchbook! Wow!Vintage Lot Six -6 Coca Cola Coke Giant 4" Big Matchbook Matches MintCool Vintage Full Feature Youngblood's Fried Chicken Matchbook! Wow!1940's Military Allies Club Washington D.c. Unstruck Front Strike Matchbook1940's Davidson Transfer & Storage Co. Feature Lion Matchbook W/ Truck - Look10 Vintage Walt Disney World Advertising Matchbooks Resorts Empress Lilly #jn100 Girlie Pin Up Front Strike Matchcovers - Classic Pin Up Girls1940's British Airways Graphic Airplane Matches Unstruck Front Strike MatchbookHuge Collection 500+ Old / Vintage Matchbook Covers!Rare 1951 Levin's Auto Supply Feature, Car Top Strike, Folding Seat Matchbook100 Chinese Resturant Matchcovers - Cities & Towns50 Ohio Front Strike Matchcovers - Cities & TownsVintage Original Gas And Oil Matchbooks1940's Roscoe Ails Chez Paree Risque Matches Unstruck Front Strike Matchbook3 Las Vegas Casino Matchbooks. 2 Are "features". 2 Golden Nugget & 1 Sahara.Trader Vic's - Matchcover Matchbook - Honolulu - Girlie - TikiVintage Stan Musial's Biggies Steak House Matchbook Cool Vintage Full Feature Bear Mountain Inn Matchbook! Wow!1940's Wwll U.s. Marine Corps W " Marine Hymn " Unstruck Front Strike MatchbookStan Musial Biggies Hotel Resort And Restaurant St Louis Florida Matchbook Gp41Matchbook Cover 20 Front Strike Santa's Village Santa Cruz Ca Amusement ParkOld 1960-1970s Matchbook Collection 400+ Estate Find Hawaii Carribean FloridaUs Air Force Hammer Field Fresno Ca Nco Club Matchbook Cover - No Matches40 Strike International Harvester Tractor Match Cover- Somerset, Pa40 Bowling Front Strike Matchcovers - Bowling AlleysVintage Vulcan Matchbox Sweden Cap Gun Trick Matchbook 1940's Ww Ii