Collection

Matchbooks

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Back in the old days when smoking was fashionable, matchbooks were a very common advertising tool for virtually every kind of business. Nightclubs and taverns, hotels and motels, and restaurants and cafes all come immediately to mind.

Many other kinds of businesses also produced their own signature matchbooks, from news stands, drug stores, dry cleaners, and food markets to banks and insurance companies, oil companies, freight lines, even politicians. You name it—everybody had a matchbook.

Because they were once so ubiquitous, matchbooks and matchbook covers, or matchcovers, have naturally become a very popular collectible. Older matchbooks often display a surprising level of creativity, the whimsical Carl’s the Drive Inn matchbook being a good example, and a few even rise to the level of diminutive works of art. Notable among these are the Balinese Room and Studio Lounge matchbooks, which were designed by a renowned Chicago artist.

Intact matchbooks, especially full unused books, are not as commonly collected as their flat matchcover counterparts, in part because they are less readily available and also because they are more trouble to store. Nevertheless, I find them the more charming of the two. Why? Because an intact matchbook is the “real” thing, the genuine article, in the form just as it was originally produced.

But there’s something else about an intact vintage matchbook that is missing—literally—from its matchcover cousin. The matches! Especially in the case of the fancier matchbooks, the matches themselves are sometimes printed with unique artwork. These “features” or “printed sticks” once transformed the otherwise mundane task of lighting a smoke into a very stylish affair indeed.