Endangered by Smoking Bans and Disposable Lighters, MatchbooksOffer a Miniature History of American Advertising
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Because matchcovers have been used to advertise anything and everything this century, there's certainly no shortage of examples for those who lean toward the offbeat.
The nation's wars have provided a few such examples. One matchcover warned people not to sleep with tramps because of the danger of contracting venereal disease. Another showed Allied sympathisers how to sabotage rails to disrupt travel schedules of German trains during the Second World War.
After the recent wave of smoking bans and the invention of the throwaway lighter, introduced in 1969, fewer establishments are providing matchbooks for their customers, and today, new collectors often complain about not being able to find free matches at local restaurants.
The emphasis, therefore, should be on older collections, thousands of which are waiting to be unearthed from garages, attics, basements and storerooms. Older collectors sometimes find it difficult to pass their collection down to the next generation, many of whom are mesmerized by television and influenced primarily by popular fad collectibles. But the older matchbooks are still worth hunting for, and while their modern counterparts may one day accrue value, most are likely to lack the enduring popularity of, say, a Katharine Hepburn Group One Movie Test Set matchcover or, a Notre Dame vs. Southern California matchcover, one of the college rival series.
Bill Retskin, a real-estate agent in Asheville, North Carolina, and a 20-year matchcover-collecting veteran, founded The American Matchcover Collecting Club in 1986.
Match Points Terminology
Face--A general term for the printed side of the matchcover.
Features--A Lion Match Co. trademark for a matchbook containing wide match sticks printed with lettering, designs or a combination of both. The standard 30-strike size matchcover holds 21 wide stick feature match sticks; the 20-strike size matchcover holds 15. Introduced in September 1930.
Front Striker--A matchcover on which the striker zone appears on the front flap of the matchbook, and is at the end of the matchcover. A characteristic of most pre-1960 matchcovers.
Manumark--The collector's term for the wording near the striker that indicates what company manufactured the matchcover or which company sold or produced the matchcover for distribution or sale.
Matchcover--The actual piece of cardboard or shinekote used to imprint the advertisement that surrounds the match sticks.
Odd Sizes--Any or all types of matchcovers other than standard-sized 20-strike, 30-strike or 40-strike. This classification includes 10-strike, 12-strike, 100-strike, 200-strike, 240-strike, Contours, Jewels, Jewelites, Midgets, Perfect "36s," Giants and all custom-cut or custom-shaped matchcovers.
Penny boxes--Small boxes of matches.
Reverse Striker--A matchcover on which the striker zone appears on the back. Mandated by law in the United States after 1976.
Skillets--Cardboard match boxes with printed designs.
Struck--A matchcover with match abrasions on the striker.
Twenty-Strike--The regular-size matchcover with 20 match sticks.
VIP--A category of matchcovers mentioning a very important person or celebrity. Resources
Most of the books and publications on matchcover collecting are out of print. Libraries will lead you to occasional articles in various archived publications. Most regional and national matchcover collecting clubs have a newsletter or bulletin, published from four to a dozen times yearly. My work, The Matchcover Collectors Resource Book and Price Guide (self-published, 1988, 252 pages, $19.95), was the first of its kind published on this hobby since Esther Rancier's Matchcovers: A Guide to Collecting (Century House/AIF, $9.95) was released in 1976. When I published The Matchcover Collector's Price Guide, 1st Edition in 1994, it sold out a run of 3,500 copies by 1996. A follow-up volume, The Matchcover Collector's Price Guide, 2nd Edition, is being published by Antique Trader Books (304 pages, $21.95) and will be available in bookstores late this summer or early fall.
The American Matchcover Collecting Club sponsors a 600- to 800-lot matchcover mail auction with each of its quarterly 54- to 60-page publications. Members are welcome to submit quality older matchcovers and collections to the auction. Matchcover collection appraisals are provided by the club at no charge. The club also sponsors an annual matchcover swap in Asheville, North Carolina. Membership is available to anyone with a genuine interest in matchcover collecting and investment-quality matchcovers. Annual dues are $25, which includes four issues of The Front Striker Bulletin, a membership roster and several specialty political matchcovers. Contact: The American Matchcover Collecting Club, P.O. Box 18481, Asheville, North Carolina 28814-0481; (704) 254-4487.