Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. How Vintage Are Your Matches?

 

My mother-in-law came to live with Mrs. Rodin and me about a year and a half ago. My father-in-law had passed the year before, but he left my mother-in-law over a decade earlier. So the precipitating event for the move was the cancer diagnosis of my mother-in-law’s significant other, who relocated to southern California where his daughters could take care of him. Did I mention my mother-in-law was 87 and her significant other 91 when this happened?

When he left, the path was cleared for my mother-in-law to give up her independent life. They did not share a home, but they shared all of their days. Keeping her home was an important feature of her life, not ceding complete control to anyone else. But the close proximity of her significant other’s home gave her a more secure feeling staying there than she could have had with Mrs. Rodin and me being over an hour away. So when he left, her need for security overcame her need for control.

Thus started the process of the great “clean-out,” the selection of what to bring, what to give away, and what to discard. Given my mother-in-law’s strength of personality (and it is strong) my approach was careful, not challenging the reality that she was losing control with the move. (We maximized the things she could bring, even putting some of our own furniture in storage to be replaced by items from her home as a means of retaining a sense of familiarity for her.)

If you have ever participated in a “clean-out” of this kind you know it is like an archeological dig or a geological excavation, exposing history and revealing fossil remains. I did not know whether my mother-in-law had become a border-line hoarder or simply forgot when she had something already and then replaced it. Given her philosophy that if it was a consumable you always bought two to ensure you did not run out, you can imagine the proliferation of certain household items.

The move was made in stages with many trips transferring objects in the back of our car before a final commercial move of large furniture. We filled up our garage and added some storage units, even with the many calls to 1-800-GOT-JUNK. As we went through every closet, container, and drawer we happened upon many many matchbooks. Recognizing they were potentially hazardous to put in disposed waste and not wanting to figure out the local regulations, I opted to take them home.

Neither Mrs. Rodin and I nor my in-laws are smokers, and so, the match collection did not serve any profound purpose and it grew over time. As I would have a reason from time to time to strike a match from my mother-in-law’s hoard I became curious about the names and designs appearing on many of the matchbooks. One was for a politician (Republican) running for state office. I finally decided to do an internet search and discovered that the politician last ran for state office in 1968! Then there was a restaurant. It closed sometime in the 1970s! So these matchbooks were now ~50 years old. But they still lighted up when struck.

Like other objects in my in-laws home, the matchbooks recorded places and activities from decades ago. Never discarded, never consumed.

My mother-in-law’s memory isn’t good anymore. My father-in-law is dead. So the stories behind the matchbooks are left to speculation except wherever Mrs. Rodin went with them in her late teens and early adulthood. A few of the establishments remain, but many of them are accessible only in online histories if they were prominent in their time and developed a loyal following or inspired something that came behind.

Do you, too, have vintage matches? What are their stories?

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  1. Hoyacon Member

    My significant other has a match collection housed in a very large version of a brandy snifter. You can count on one hand the number of additions in the last ten years, mainly because match books aren’t a thing anymore. Still, whenever we want to reminisce about our trip to, say, Otto’s Liquors in Bloomington MN, or some long dead French restaurant in DC, the match books stand us in good stead. I’m glad we have them.

    • #1
    • January 12, 2020, at 12:18 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  2. Full Size Tabby Member

    Yes! 

    Most of ours we collected as souvenirs of motels and restaurants we visited in the early years of our marriage (we married in 1981). We have never smoked, but we have used some to light candles. Pulling one out will often trigger a series of memories about a trip or other event from years ago. Since we know they mean nothing to our children, we are now using them up, but sometimes keep the cover.

    The one that I value most is one from Club 33, the private dining venue inside Disneyland to which we had access via my then-employer. Our name is printed in gold colored foil on the cover below the Club 33 logo. 

    Doesn’t @jameslileks collect matchbooks and/or has produced a book on the subject?

    • #2
    • January 12, 2020, at 12:51 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor

    To my knowledge, no one in my family collected matchbooks. I went through periods of collecting things for a scrapbook but was terrible about keeping it up. My mother did love owls; she collected all kinds of owl memorabilia, but I never asked her why. I suspect it was the “wise old owl” aspect that attracted her.

    • #3
    • January 12, 2020, at 12:53 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  4. MarciN Member

    Rodin: We maximized the things she could bring, even putting some of our own furniture in storage to be replaced by items from her home as a means of retaining a sense of familiarity for her.

    That is one of the sweetest things I have ever heard of one person doing for another. :-) 

    • #4
    • January 12, 2020, at 1:06 PM PST
    • 11 likes
  5. tigerlily Member

    I wrote about one of my childhood hobbies – matchbook collecting – here at Ricochet just about a year ago. My collection no longer exists.

    • #5
    • January 12, 2020, at 1:17 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  6. Full Size Tabby Member

    Pro Tip to the yung’uns: If you want to start collecting a category of souvenir, choose something small!

    Matchbooks are much smaller than the pottery beverage mugs we also collected. Space issues drove us to thin the mug collection many years ago. 

    I know places don’t generally hand out matchbooks any more. Our daughter and son-in-law collect shot glasses, which are relatively small. 

    • #6
    • January 12, 2020, at 1:19 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  7. PHCheese Member

    When I was much younger and went to places that served adult beverages with the intention of meeting girls, I would write likely and willing girls numbers on the inside of match books. I had a little code that I would use to rate them for a call later. On occasion the phone would be out of service. Threw them all away long before I got married. It’s a fine thing you are doing for your mother in-law.

    • #7
    • January 12, 2020, at 1:21 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  8. Old Buckeye Member

    Hoyacon (View Comment):
    match collection housed in a very large version of a brandy snifter.

    This is what my parents had as well, displayed on the coffee table in the formal living room. It was always fun to dig through and find matchbooks that sparked a reminiscence from them. 

    • #8
    • January 12, 2020, at 5:00 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  9. danok1 Member

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    Yes!

    Most of ours we collected as souvenirs of motels and restaurants we visited in the early years of our marriage (we married in 1981). We have never smoked, but we have used some to light candles. Pulling one out will often trigger a series of memories about a trip or other event from years ago. Since we know they mean nothing to our children, we are now using them up, but sometimes keep the cover.

    The one that I value most is one from Club 33, the private dining venue inside Disneyland to which we had access via my then-employer. Our name is printed in gold colored foil on the cover below the Club 33 logo.

    Doesn’t @jameslileks collect matchbooks and/or has produced a book on the subject?

    Yes, he does. Here’s the link to his matchbook sub site: http://lileks.com/match/index.html

    • #9
    • January 12, 2020, at 5:11 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  10. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I have some from Seagrave Fire Apparatus, from when my grandfather worked there. The books themselves are wide and sturdy, and in a silver foil (these are good matches, like you’d expect from a company that made fire engines). That’s not the cool part. 

    They are in a fire-truck shaped carton, that must have once contained 100 such books. It’s about the size of a shoe.

    • #10
    • January 12, 2020, at 6:54 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  11. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    I was not persistent in collecting either matchbooks or hotel soap bars. That said, I still have a matchbook, really a matchbox, from a French hotel near Verdun, Hotel Sofitel. The occasional was an official officer hooky weekend, labeled an “officer professional development (OPD)” trip. I do not remember the hotel, just images of Verdun, still a green covered moonscape of craters on top of craters. Ah, and there was the frustrated would-be frat boy lieutenant, a West Pointer sure he had missed the real college experience. He played the loud, obnoxious American to a pretty, classy (of course) French waitress at an outdoor cafe. 

    • #11
    • January 12, 2020, at 7:29 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  12. OldDanRhody, comfortably seque… Member

    Save the matches against the day when those available (if any) are so safe that they won’t burn at all.

    • #12
    • January 12, 2020, at 8:02 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  13. Pony Convertible Member

    OldDanRhody, 7152 Maple Dr. (View Comment):

    Save the matches against the day when those available (if any) are so safe that they won’t burn at all.

    Yeah, I really miss strike anywhere matches. Is the world really a safer place without them?

    • #13
    • January 13, 2020, at 4:59 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  14. Suspira Member

    Rodin: I did not know whether my mother-in-law had become a border-line hoarder or simply forgot when she had something already and then replaced it. Given her philosophy that if it was a consumable you always bought two to ensure you did not run out, you can imagine the proliferation of certain household items.

    With my mother, it was greeting cards. She liked to keep an assortment of cards for all occasions—birthdays, graduations, get-well, and condolence, as well as generic “thinking of you” cards. This was sensible for an elderly lady who religiously kept up with family and friends, but didn’t get out much. Martha Sue is in the hospital? Grab a get-well card from the hoard. No big deal.

    But after Mama moved into a retirement home, my sister and I discovered that she had compiled an inventory of cards worthy of a Hallmark store. Way more cards than she could ever need. So we did what dutiful daughters do—we thinned the herd. Bags of cards went to the thrift store. Mind you, we left her with a lot of cards. Plenty of cards to last the life expectancy of a woman in her 90s.

    Mama never remarked or complained about out clean-up operation. I should say, she didn’t complain to us. But she had a dedicated and loving small group at her church, who made it a priority to “do for Miss Mary.” On a visit sometime later, I discovered these sweet people had restocked her vast store of pre-printed sentiment.

    You just can’t fight all that good will.

    • #14
    • January 13, 2020, at 10:01 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  15. Front Seat Cat Member

    Suspira (View Comment):

    Rodin: I did not know whether my mother-in-law had become a border-line hoarder or simply forgot when she had something already and then replaced it. Given her philosophy that if it was a consumable you always bought two to ensure you did not run out, you can imagine the proliferation of certain household items.

    With my mother, it was greeting cards. She liked to keep an assortment of cards for all occasions—birthdays, graduations, get-well, and condolence, as well as generic “thinking of you” cards. This was sensible for an elderly lady who religiously kept up with family and friends, but didn’t get out much. Martha Sue is in the hospital? Grab a get-well card from the hoard. No big deal.

    But after Mama moved into a retirement home, my sister and I discovered that she had compiled an inventory of cards worthy of a Hallmark store. Way more cards than she could ever need. So we did what dutiful daughters do—we thinned the herd. Bags of cards went to the thrift store. Mind you, we left her with a lot of cards. Plenty of cards to last the life expectancy of a woman in her 90s.

    Mama never remarked or complained about out clean-up operation. I should say, she didn’t complain to us. But she had a dedicated and loving small group at her church, who made it a priority to “do for Miss Mary.” On a visit sometime later, I discovered these sweet people had restocked her vast store of pre-printed sentiment.

    You just can’t fight all that good will.

    My aunt that raised us had the greeting card stash too – something for everyone. My sister still sends me one on occasion, like for my birthday and when I opened it, it said “thinking of you” – haha – we laughed, because a lot of those cards were just to say hey, I’m thinking of you.

    The matchbox story here is lovely @rodin and very good of you to take her in. It is a big job. I wonder how many stories she remembers behind those matches? My sister went to an estate sale in her neighborhood and there was a carton of vintage postcards from all over the world. The woman that passed had quite a life, and the postcards to prove it. My sister had to have them and had to fight over them and won!

    • #15
    • January 13, 2020, at 10:59 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  16. James Lileks Contributor

    danok1 (View Comment):

    Doesn’t @jameslileks collect matchbooks and/or has produced a book on the subject?

    Yes, he does. Here’s the link to his matchbook sub site: http://lileks.com/match/index.html

    no book yet, but lots of matches. I’ve bought several collections over the years, scrounged dozens from antique stores, and the site is – AFAIK – the only one on the Internet that annotates the matches instead of just scanning-and-posting them.

    I post 150 a year, and I’ve finished all the updates through 2022. 

    • #16
    • January 13, 2020, at 3:42 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  17. danok1 Member

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    danok1 (View Comment):

    Doesn’t @jameslileks collect matchbooks and/or has produced a book on the subject?

    Yes, he does. Here’s the link to his matchbook sub site: http://lileks.com/match/index.html

    no book yet, but lots of matches. I’ve bought several collections over the years, scrounged dozens from antique stores, and the site is – AFAIK – the only one on the Internet that annotates the matches instead of just scanning-and-posting them.

    I post 150 a year, and I’ve finished all the updates through 2022.

    I do wonder when/if OGH ever sleeps.

    • #17
    • January 14, 2020, at 5:25 AM PST
    • 1 like
  18. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Pony Convertible (View Comment):

    OldDanRhody, 7152 Maple Dr. (View Comment):

    Save the matches against the day when those available (if any) are so safe that they won’t burn at all.

    Yeah, I really miss strike anywhere matches. Is the world really a safer place without them?

    • #18
    • January 14, 2020, at 3:12 PM PST
    • 2 likes