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Vintage Matchbooks from Around the World

Strike Your Fancy
Vintage Matchbooks from Around the World
You see them in the glass bowl near the door at your favorite restaurant or a stack in the hotel lobby you checked into recently. It seems as if matchbooks have always been there, free for the taking. Nope, that was not always the deal.

Take a scroll through the slideshow to learn a bit about the past of matches and to see 10 vintage matchbooks from around the world.
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    Strike Your Fancy
    Strike Your Fancy
    You see them in the glass bowl near the door at your favorite restaurant or a stack in nearly every hotel lobby. It seems as though matchbooks have always been around, free for the taking. But that’s not the case. 

    Scroll through this slideshow to learn the history of the matchbook and to see 10 vintage matchbooks from around the world.

    All photos by Jeffery Cross
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    Light Lovers
    Light Lovers
    Before we go any further, there’s one word you should know: phillumeny, or the “hobby of collecting match-related items”. Phil is from the Greek word for loving, and lumen is Latin for light. Pretty striking, right?

    Matchbook: Spain

    Photo by Jeffery Cross
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    A MATCH BY ANY OTHER NAME
    A MATCH BY ANY OTHER NAME
    The first matchbooks popped up in 1892, when Joshua Pusey, an American inventor, dipped the tips of cardboard into a solution of phosphorus and sulfur. He named them “sulphuretted peroxide strikables”—doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it?

    Matchbook: Italy

    Photo by Jeffery Cross
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    Match made in heaven
    Match made in heaven
    Naturally, the little fire-starters were a hit with the tobacco industry. Not long after the patent was approved, orders started rolling in.

    Matchbook: France

    Photo by Jeffery Cross
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    All in the packaging
    All in the packaging
    Tobacco companies weren’t the only ones to jump on board the matchbook train. Advertisers immediately saw dollar signs, too. The only issue was how to get people to buy them?

    Matchbook: Uruguay

    Photo by Jeffery Cross
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     The cost
    The cost
    In 1894, Henry Traute, one of the first salesmen to buy matchbooks, had the genius idea to give the books away as an advertisement for other products.

    Matchbook: Mozambique

    Photo by Jeffery Cross
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    Little by Little . . .
    Little by Little . . .
    Matchbooks started to show up in coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and hotels—free of charge.

    Matchbook: Barbados

    Photo by Jeffery Cross
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    What’s in a cover?
    What’s in a cover?
    As matchbooks became more popular, the designs grew more and more, well, cool. Wrigley’s (as in the gum) created one of the first matchbook covers to later become a collectible item. 

    Matchbook: India

    Photo by Jeffery Cross
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    The cool thing to do
    The cool thing to do
    In the ’50s, companies as diverse as Playboy and Disneyland created custom matchbooks. Even the Truman administration jumped on board, designing an Air Force One Presidential series.

    Matchbook: Mexico

    Photo by Jeffery Cross
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     The Burn out
    The Burn out
    As the health risks associated with smoking became common knowledge (and, we imagine, as Zippos became popular), matchbook production dramatically decreased.

    Matchbook: England

    Photo by Jeffery Cross
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    Nostalgic Collectible
    Nostalgic Collectible
    It’s fair to say that the matchbooks of today are a far cry from the “sulphuretted peroxide strikables” of the past. They are beloved items, drenched in nostalgia, and in many cases, the easiest way to bring a little piece of your travels home with you—they are pocket-size, after all. 

    Matchbook: Portugal

    Photo by Jeffery Cross
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    What's Next . . .