Matchbox Masterpieces

There are many different promotional products that over the years have been the bearers of fabulous graphic design;  great traditional brands, too countless to name here will be all so familiar to us and if we’ve ever been to a traditional bistro style restaurant, we will have all seen (and appreciated) the old advertising posters for those brands and others.

An often overlooked place to find such glorious design however, and one which offers a much more varied subject matter is that of the matchbox label.

As an advertising medium, for obvious reasons (they are useful, pocketable, transportable and often shared), they are popular throughout the world but particularly so in Japan.  After a bit of reading up on the subject, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that matchbox label advertising started with the introduction of the safety match in 1844, and really took off as colour printing technology developed.

The greatest period of artistic development seems to be in period between the World  War I and World War II.  Today marketeers are still looking for a promotional medium as ubiquitous and useful as the matchbox – with perhaps the closest thing that I can think of being the USB memory stick.  Sadly these haven’t really developed from a design perspective… well not yet anyway!

There are many famous matchbox labels including the first ever charity match Solstickan from 1936 and one that I have grown up with: Swan Vestas, the match of choice for my dad – an avid pipe smoker.   

Did you know that the collecting of matchboxes is called Phillumeny?  I’m not sure what the Phillumenist’s take would be on the latest developments in matchbooks  – where the match head is replaced with a herb or plant seed.  A much more sustainable and appropriate proposition in my humble opinion!  

The popularity of these matchstick gardens is growing (I know I shouldn’t laugh at my own jokes…) and perhaps the easiest and best place to get your hands on some is Tomasina Miers’ Mexican canteen Wahaca where the matchbooks are full of tremendous chili seeds. 

But I wonder if there will ever be a term for USB memory stick collectors?  Have you ever seen one worth saving from a design perspective?  Nope… me neither!

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