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Got a Match?
A Photo Album

Written March 31, 2003


When my father sold Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles, the major annual event at his dealership was in October:  the introduction of the new models.  Back then, there was a significant styling change every year, and folks would flock in to see the new cars.  There were refreshments available and free things to take home.

Each promotional item, of course, was imprinted with the dealership's name.  There were toys like rubber balls, and useful objects like yardsticks — and books of matches.

Giveaway matchbooks had been around for years.  A large percentage of Americans smoked, and they often lit their cigarettes with these free paper matches that came in cardboard folders.

On the outside of the folder was a convenient sandpaper-like strip on which a match could be ignited.  It was recommended that the cover be closed first, however, lest a spark ignite all the other matches in the book.

My father wasn't much of a collector, but he did save matches.  After he died, I found a cache of about a hundred matchbooks.  Let me show you some.

Perhaps the oldest weren't matchbooks at all, but rather boxes of imported wooden safety matches.

The red Salamanders came from Germany.  The Green Hats came from Finland; the label says "Copyrighted 1926."

The rest, however, were free giveaways, mostly from the 1930s and 1940s, such as these from The City Loan.  Most of these little books have a handy chart inside, showing how it cost only 23¢ to borrow $10 for two months.  Others list the company's 57 loan offices around Ohio.

My father's favorite place to get matches must have been The City Loan; there were 12 books in his collection.

Many a business gave these matchbooks at no charge to its customers.  The covers advertised either the business itself or perhaps products like cigars.  My father ended up with nine matchbooks promoting cigars, six of them King Edward . . .

. . . and another six matchbooks promoting Anco razor blades (though not always at the same price).

Other well-known advertisers were Alka-Seltzer and Dr. Pepper.

Inside this matchbook for Rahnous Nasal Drops & Capsules ("try them for lessening the discomforts of asthma, rose & hay fever"), the copy read, "If your druggist is unable to supply you, mail this match cover to E.W. Rahn, Mfg. Pharmacist, Harvard and 42nd St., Cleveland, Ohio."  The price was $1 for 30 capsules.

Other products ranged from something as small as a spark plug, promising "flaming youth for every car" . . .

. . . to something as large as an airplane.  According to this matchbook, the Piper Cub "outsells all other light planes combined.  Down payment as little as $333; easy monthly installments.  Dealers at leading airports."

Some sponsors' messages spread over both the front and back of the matchbooks.

Other books were less commercial.  This one, for card players, depicted Pueblo Indians on the outside and included a table of bridge points inside ("New International Scoring, Revised April 1, 1935").

And these books apparently came from the PX at the Army post where my father was stationed in 1943.  Shenango, Greenville, and Transfer are all towns north of Sharon, PA.

But there were plenty that promoted individual businesses, such as the Neil House hotel in downtown Columbus, Ohio.

Smaller than the usual books, these two advertised a Florsheim shoe store (left) and the cylindrical Christopher Inn in Columbus (right).

Here are two books from a Montana hotel that boasted 125 baths for its 200 rooms, only a quarter of which were air-conditioned.

Another book for The Kentuckian, a hotel in Lexington, mentioned its amenities:  Radio, Bath, Ice Water.

Other exotic hostelries included the elite Greenbrier at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and the cabins beside Lowell Bockbrader's gas station.  He sold Fleet-Wing gasoline at a crossroads 25 miles outside Toledo.

There are a number of restaurants represented in the collection.  Only one of them served Asian dishes:  Guey Sam, "A Chinese Restaurant of Distinction" in Chicago.

I could never get my father to eat Chinese food; he said he tried it once and got sick.  Could that have been at Guey Sam's?

These Art Deco gentlemen are promoting "Wisconsin's Swankiest Cocktail Bar and Lounge, Famous for Food and Cocktails," Higgins Hobnob at 515 Sixth Street in Racine.  But my father was all business.  Inside he penciled a reminder, "Financial statements July 31st."

Another matchbook came from William Reynolds at the L.L.L. Restaurant in Falmouth, Kentucky, phone 297, featuring chicken and country ham dinners.

C.E. and Ira Hoel were the proprietors of the East End Café at 1358 Greenwood Avenue in Zanesville, Ohio.  They offered "Beer and Wine, Cigarettes, Sandwiches, Lunch" in their advertising message imprinted on the other side of  this book, which appears to feature generic artwork.

So does this one.  According to the other side, Zanesville's "finest eating place" was the Clock Café, where "we serve all legal beverages."  However, the cook probably did not look like the chef in this picture.

Another café poked fun at the usual claims of "we're the best."

Restaurants that didn't want to spend the money for custom-printed matchbooks could use this plain "Your Patronage Is Appreciated" version.  Perhaps they'd stamp their name on the back.

Because my father was in the auto business, he picked up some matchbooks like this one.  On the other side it advertises "Brakes Balanced.  Grey-Rock Balanced Braksets (sic)."

Another from Allison Body Sales in Cambridge, "235 Dewey Ave., Phone 2486, Truck Equipment, Bus Bodies," advertises Linco Gasoline and Marathon Motor Oil.

My father didn't limit himself to these simple books of matches.  Also in his collection, I found a couple of monogrammed cigarette lighters.  And there's a classy brass case designed to hold and protect a matchbook.  The hinged cover closes with a satisfying click, and there's a striking surface on the outside.

He used cigarettes through World War II, as did practically everybody in the Army.  But when I was born in 1947, my grandfather Harry Buckingham asked his son-in-law whether he wanted to bring me up around cigarette smoke.  My father decided that he didn't, so he quit.  Just like that.  Cold turkey.  He had part of a pack of cigarettes in his pocket when he made that decision, and he carried that pack around with him for months to prove his willpower.  He never smoked again.

But he still collected matchbooks, even a few while on senior citizen bus trips in the early 1990s.  They're becoming less common nowadays.  The hundred that he stashed away remain as reminders of the 20th century.


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