EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 129 - October 24, 2004 - ISSN 1528-6703     7 of 8

Collector's Corner: Matchcovering Collectors

By Michele Alice

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Remember that scene in Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" where Cary Grant, standing by the villain's second-floor railing, writes a warning inside a matchbook's cover and then tosses it to the living room below in hopes that Eva Marie Saint will spy it? I'll bet phillumenists everywhere would love to add that little bit of ephemera to their collections!

Phillumenists? Who are they?

Actually, they are a worldwide group of collectors of all things having to do with matches.

Though the hobby, called phillumeny, comprises everything from manufacturers' catalogs and samples to such non-ephemera ("hardware") as match strikers, it is the collecting of matchcovers, matchboxes, and matchbox labels that is of paramount interest.

Friction matches began to replace flint and steel by the 1820s, when patents were granted in France and Britain, but it was not until 1890s that what we call the "matchbook" was invented and patented in the United States.

To this day, matchbook covers enjoy great popularity among American collectors, while their European counterparts prefer matchbox labels. With the general exception of "Feature-type" matches, which themselves are printed upon or differently shaped, it is not what is in the box or under the cover that is important to collectors, but what is on the outside of the package.

Labels and covers have borne manufacturers' logos from their inceptions, but in 1894/5 an ad for Piso's cough medicine appeared on a matchcover, creating advertising history. Since then, just about every organization, business, political party, resort and cause has used the medium of matchbook advertising to reach untold millions of consumers.

The rarest known cover is a single survivor of 100 handprinted copies issued by the Mendelson Opera Company in 1896. Presently owned by the Franklin Mint, its estimated value is in excess of $25,000. But don't let its cost scare you: a perusal of online auction sites shows that most covers can be had for just a few dollars.

So, what are the fundamentals of matchcover collecting? First, both for display purposes and for safety, almost all collectors strip (remove) the matches from the covers. This is done by gently prying the staple open (you do NOT want to damage the cover!) and removing the staple and matches. As stated earlier, the only time you would wish to keep the matchbook intact is when the matches are actually part of the ad.

Second, as with most ephemera, covers should not be exposed to direct sunlight, heat, or high humidity, and they should be stored in non-PVC boxes or pages. Many collectors use the same types of pages and binders as for baseball cards.

Third, condition is of paramount importance. Unless the cover is particularly rare, the strike (where you rub the match to ignite it) should be in pristine, unused condition. The cover should also be as free of creases, tears, handwriting, rubs, and other blemishes as possible.

Fourth, specialize. Phillumeny is a huge field, larger even than collecting stamps. Most collectors find that it is much more satisfying to devote their funds and energies toward filling a tiny niche rather than engaging in a Smithsonian-attic mentality.

Last, network. There are dozens of clubs and organizations on the World Wide Web. Many of them contain lists of collector-members who would like nothing better than to trade their duplicates or unwanted covers for some of yours.

Happy Collecting!

For more information, try the following:


"Close Cover Before Striking: The Golden Age of Matchcover Art (Recollectibles)," by H. Thomas Steele, Jim Heimann, Rod Dyer

"The Matchcover Collector's Price Guide: The Comprehensive Reference Book and Price Guide to Matchcovers," by Bill Retskin, John Williams

"Matchcovers: A Guide to Collecting," by Esther Rancier

"930 Matchbook Advertising Cuts of the Twenties and Thirties (Pictorial Archive Series), by Trina Robbins"

Web sites:

The American Diner Museum
Article by Richard Green highlights collectible niche.

The American Matchcover Collecting Club
Extensive history.

The British Matchbox Label & Booklet Society
Beginner's guide; glossary; links to manufacturers, collectors, clubs; much more!

The Matchcover Vault
List of 400 most common categories, sizes, types, illustrated "anatomy," more.

The Rathkamp Matchcover Society "The Oldest Phillumenic Organization In The World."
History, facts, news, events.

About the author:

Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ eBay ID: Malice9

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