I’ve said many times before — “Some of us were born to collect, and some of us have great collections thrust upon us” — at least it’s a quote I would like to be known for saying. I have never been able to settle for collecting one thing, it may be more accurate to admit I am a collector of collections — or maybe the stories around them.
In an article published a few weeks ago, I wrote about a jar of matches I picked up at an auction. It wasn’t the matches I wanted, but the odd coins of varying currency among them. I have purchased matches before, though not nearly in as great a quantity, again because there was something among them.
I can’t take for granted the fact that some readers may not realize there was a time when smoking was the norm. Much like the wearing of hats was a sign of civilized society, smoking and its accessories were widely available. Matchbooks especially were at every counter, every reception desk and every hotel room as a reminder that when you do something as essential to the human race as “make fire,” do it with matches with “our” complements.
Since 1895 matches have been used as a form of advertising. The history of matches themselves is easily found in an Internet search, but can be abridged to the invention of the “safety” match that allows the conversion of the phosphorus on the match head to ignite only when struck against the chemicals in the striker pad on the matchbook. Before that, users ran the risk of poisoning from the gas emitted from the white phosphorus alone.
Today, at flea markets, tag sales and auctions you can find these in large and small collections from all over the world — some rare, some common, but all different. When cleaning out an attic or garage you are likely to find a souvenir from a hotel long since demolished. Because of the variety and creativity in which such a small billboard was put to use, they have become tiny icons of places and products that no longer exist.
My small collection, some of which are featured above, came from a Bethel sale that I purchased because there were so many local landmarks. Some I remembered and some I never knew existed. The Hotel Green in Danbury stood in a prominent place right on Main Street. The 1953 restaurant/supper club “La Ronda” started by the Spanish-born Orchestra leader Enric Madriguera in Newtown has shades of similarity to the classic sit-com “I Love Lucy.” The interior map from the Merritt to the restaurant is just one of the pleasant surprises from collecting this “hot-headed” memorabilia.
Search around for some of the other matchbooks in my collection “of collections” on the Blog and see if you can answer this question: Did advertisers mean to threaten shoppers by the way they placed animals in their ads? Take a look at this gem from 1917.
Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story. You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.