By Timothy Harrison
There was a time, not that many years ago, when nearly every substantial business in America had matchbook covers printed with their advertisement on them that they offered free to their customers. Probably every restaurant, hotel, and motel offered matches with their advertisement on them. But they weren’t alone. Most service businesses such as plumbers, electricians, grocery stores, gas stations, lawyers, accountants and others also had them. They were an inexpensive and effective form of advertisement that people took home and carried in their pockets or purses.
Many individuals also had their own matchbook covers made. Probably one of the most famous matchbook covers was the one used in the Alfred Hitchcock suspense thriller North By Northwest that starred Hollywood legend Cary Grant as advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill. His personalized matchbook cover had his initials R O T printed on them, and the matchbook played an integral part in the movie, especially toward its conclusion when it became the warning that saved the heroine from her demise at the hands of the ruthless spies.
Matchbook advertising covers were one of the least expensive forms of advertisement for any business or business professional, and still could be. However, times have changed and fewer and fewer business offer advertisement or personalized matchbooks for their customers today. When you do pick one up at a local business, they usually have “Thank You” printed on them or some other nondescript statement. Even the quality of the matches themselves are inferior to what they were just a short number of years ago.
The hobby of collecting matchcoverings is called phillumeny, and people who collect them are called phillumenists. Many of these people don’t care what is shown on the cover; they collect them all. However, others collect only certain items that might be featured on the cover, and naturally in our case this would be those that feature a lighthouse.
According to the various sources we’ve researched, phillumeny is a large field and is more popular than stamp collecting, or at least it ranks as an equal. There are dozens of clubs and organizations that can be found on the Internet that contain lists of collector members where you can buy and trade matchcoverings. Some of those include The American Matchcover Collecting Club, The British Matchbox Label and Booklet Society, The Matchcover Vault, and The Rathkamp Matchcover Society. It seems that the dwindling number of American collectors prefer to collect matchbook covers, while most Europeans prefer to collect matchbox labels. Matchbox covers were on the small boxes that contained wooden matches, and matchbook covers were on the fold-over matchbook where you rip or tear out one match at a time as needed.
You can generally find matchcovers at many postcard shows or ephemera shows, and of course in some antique shops. One of the most common sizes of matchbox labels from the boxes that hold wooden matches are 2 1/8 inches wide by 1 ½ inches high. Naturally there are other sizes for larger boxes. The same is true with matchbook covers, with the smaller sizes being more popular than the larger sizes.
For safety purposes, nearly all matchbook collectors carefully remove the matches so as not to damage the cover, unless there is an actual advertisement printed on the matches themselves. There are even companies that sell matchbook display cases to show off the collections.
Unless something changes dramatically, matchcover collecting, especially lighthouse matchcover collecting, may soon be limited to select few. But, if you are one on the few, you will have an immense aboumt of fun researching the history of each and every business and image featured on the matchcovers of your collection. The Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland, Maine has a display of lighthouse matchbook covers that we had collected and donated.
For those of you who save your back issues of Lighthouse Digest, we featured some of the more distinctive matchbox covers in the September/October 2011 In this issue we are now sharing with you a few matchbook covers to show what you may find out there if you decide to take up this hobby. You may even recognize some of the businesses, but more than likely, you’ll find that many of them are no longer around.
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2015 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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