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January 16, 2021

Striking on the Modern Matchbook

Screen Shot 2021-01-09 at 12.49.12 PM

[A 1973 federal regulation mandated that the striker be moved from the front of the matchbook to the back (they were originally inside).] 

From the New York Times:

Striking on the Modern Matchbook

No one knows what exactly prompted Joshua Pusey, a lawyer and the inventor of the modern toboggan, to patent a folded piece of cardboard carrying matches and a striker in 1892.

Though legend suggests it had more to do with vanity than with safety.

"I heard that he was a patent attorney and always wearing suits and vests," explains Mark Bean, president of the match division of New Hampshire’s D. D. Bean & Sons Company, which has been in the trade since 1938. "And that a box of wooden matches was bulky and awkward to carry around."

Pusey called his brainchild "flexibles" quite possibly because, unlike their predecessors, which smokers carried in silhouette-marring match safes, they slid into a dandy's pocket with nary a bump.

His contraption soon caught the attention of a company called Diamond.

In 1896 it purchased the patent for $4,000, thereby charting its course toward world matchbook domination.

American businesses quickly learned that the matchbook's value lay outside the box.

In 1889, the Mendelssohn Opera Company promoted the imminent arrival of "America's youngest operatic comedian," Thomas Lowden, on the front of a matchbook. (On the back flap, it noted there would be "pretty girls.")

Soon everyone followed suit: airlines, universities, Epcot Center.

Five-and-dime stores sold matchbooks of movie stars and sports teams.

"The last 100 or so years of this country are all chronicled on match covers," says Michael Prero, who runs the collectors' website Matchpro.org.

By the 1940s, it was estimated that more than one million Americans had become s, or matchbook collectors.

During World War II, General Douglas MacArthur had matchbooks bearing the words "I shall return" dropped behind enemy lines in the Philippines.

"When you talk about the history of the match industry," Bean says, "it's pre-lighters and post-lighters." In the mid-1970s, he says, around 35 billion matchbooks were manufactured each year. "Within 20 years, lighters took away about 90 percent of the market."

As recent anti-smoking crusades have dried up the remaining ad business, today's beautifully designed books are often inspired by nostalgia (or branding, or a combination of the two).

And the rest are plain, undecorated white.

"There's an affiliation with smoking that's hard to avoid," says Chris Scherzinger, president of Jarden Home Brands, which bought Diamond in 2002. "Not that I have anything against smokers."

[Inspired by Crack Correspondents©® Paul Tempke and xoxoxoBruce]

January 16, 2021 at 02:01 PM | Permalink



I am unworthy!

Posted by: Paul Tempke | Jan 20, 2021 12:58:13 PM

funny how? I remember driving through Eureka, California, home of paper pulp mills, and it was such a horrible powerful awful smell.

Posted by: bookofjoe | Jan 17, 2021 10:09:52 AM

That 1896 $4,000 was quite a hunk of change, $128,000 in today's money.
I remember the Diamond plant in Springfield, MA, it smelled funny.

Posted by: xoxoxoBruce | Jan 16, 2021 6:45:12 PM

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