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Matchcovers vs Matchbooks

Traditionally in the hobby, collectors have saved matchcovers without the matches, pressed flat for easy display. The exception has often been for features and nicer printed sticks, although from the number of stripped feature covers still in circulation we know that many old collectors didn’t believe in saving them either.  The percentage of full book collectors was once estimated at 1% of the total collectors. But recently there has been resurgence in collecting full books. Why the change and is it a good change?

We all started out as full book collectors since we didn’t know better. My early collection quickly exploded in numbers since matchbooks were still very common in the early 1980s. I started hanging them on string, which quickly blossomed into far too many strands. The extras went in a cigar box, which was awkward and basically kept me from seeing my collection. I was shocked when I received my first stripped covers in the mail, but after some consideration I decided to join the trend and stripped my matchbooks to begin displaying the covers on slotted pages.

So how do we explain the movement toward full book collectors? One reason is the scarcity of new matchbooks today. In the last century, you could quickly accumulate a large collection from local businesses as well as grab tables that far exceed today’s freebies.  So the sheer volume of matchbooks that were available at the time necessitated a better storage method than full books allowed.  Today many newer collectors rarely see a matchbook in the wild and are excited to get even a few matchbooks. Buying a matchbook online often sets them back at least $5 with postage, so each one has some added value and the number of matchbooks in the collection is significantly less.  Furthermore, collectors at that time were used to seeing matchbooks and there was nothing novel about the product. Today, collectors tend to be more interested in the matchbook design and the actual match sticks. This adds value to the intact collectible as opposed to collecting only the matchcover for the history, art and memories attached to the cover.

A major concern in my mind is the long term condition of the matchcover when left intact with matches. It is standard procedure for paper archivists to remove all folds and staples from the paper document to be preserved. Folds and staples promote dirt, rust, and deterioration, particularly in a humid environment. We have seen all too often the condition of some old full books where the striker and area around the staple is crumbling after years of poor storage. While this is usually not an issue in the short term, it is definitely a consideration over the decades. I will often avoid purchasing an extremely old matchbook unless it is clear to me that there is not serious damage to the striker area of the cover.

A secondary reason why I favor stripping the matches from covers is the display aspect. I can display thousands upon thousands of covers in notebooks with minimal space concerns. With the acid free plastic pages available today I can also display both the outside and inside of each cover if I want. While full books can be displayed in plastic pages while open, or while closed in 9 pocket pages, the esthetics are not quite the same. I have often heard on Facebook from collectors of full books who, despite a smaller collection, struggle with the display of their collectibles.

Fire safety is an often heard reason for stripping out the matches, but I must admit that stories of fires related to the hobby are minimal. Matches do not tend to spontaneously combust.  I suppose the biggest danger is a house fire spreading to the collection and exploding into a suddenly bigger fire. But even that danger seems quite remote.

At the end of the day, it is your collection. You will have your reasons for collecting a full book or a stripped matchcover. So long as you make that choice with the facts in mind, the biggest thing is for you to enjoy your collection. Just take good care of those little gems and give them a good home!


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