My Object= The Matchbook


A Cultural Perspective

The most important function of the matchbook is to manually take care of lighting a flame to whatever requires it. Whether it is a candle, a cigar, cigarette or lantern, matchbooks are a simple, cheap way of igniting. It is estimated that of the 500 billion matches used per year, 200 billion are from matchbooks
( Now that there are lighters, the need for the functional use of matchbooks is gradually in decline from their use in the early 1900s. However, there are a few other ways in which matchbooks are utilized in today’s world.

Advertising has been an extremely important function of the matchbook. The first advertisements placed on matchbooks were of opera singers of the Mendleson Opera company in 1889 ( inventions/matches.htm). Since then, they can be seen in several places such as restaurants and hotels and are often given out for free as souvenirs. The idea that they are an inexpensive way to market products has helped the business endure through constantly evolving forms of communication. For example, an entire case of matchbooks runs for about eighty dollars, placing each individual match at less than two cents ( What also makes them appealing is that the advertisement itself becomes a tangible object which people can not only possess but to use as well. This is much different then simply seeing a television commercial or a print ad.

The other function of the matchbook is through Phillumeny or the hobby of collecting matchboxes and matchbooks (http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki / Phillumeny). With all of the illustrations and images that were printed on the outside covers of matchbooks, certain designs became very popular and very rare. Today, there are still many people who collect matchbooks and the act of preserving the books themselves in considered by many to be an art.

Another cool matchbook design

A Technological Perspective

The technological history of the matchbook has been a very basic but important path. There is a one hundred and fifty year history from the conception of the match as an individual element to the creation of the commercial matchbook and within this time there have been a few design changes in both.

Smoking was an activity growing fast throughout the world and soon the need for a portable igniter arose. In 1827, the first “sulphuretted peroxide strikables” were created by an English pharmacist named John Walker. They were yard long sticks with a coding of concentrated sulfur at the end (http://www. ideafinder. com/history/inventions/matches.htm). Besides being far too big for distribution, scientists found that that the coating on these prototypical matches was too explosive when ignited. Initially, scientists had been using a combination of phosphorus and sulfur which together created too much of a reaction. Their goal was to achieve a more controlled reaction with the flame. It wasn’t until the invention of amorphous phosphorous in 1845, also known as red phosphorous, that a matchbook could be conceived ( /history/ inventions/matches.htm).

A inventor named Joshua Pusey is known for coming up with the first matchbook. His idea originated from an encounter he had at a dinner party. He had wanted to light his cigar and found that reaching into his pocket for his bulky box of matches was far too cumbersome. Matches as well as the boxes were too large. Pusey had wondered why matches could not be made out of cardboard, which was light, flexible and also flammable. Up until this point, the match was strictly made out of wood. Eventually he patented his design for “flexibles” which consisted of a case made of simple cardboard along with a striking strip located on the inside of the matchbook and several coated matches usually ranging between 20 and 50 matches per book (http:// http://www.i- history .html). Pusey’s design however did have a major flaw. He had placed the striking strip on the inside of the case, which would ignite all of the matches inside. Not until the Diamond Match Company bought the patent off of Pusey was the striking strip placed on the outside (

NYC Design

Today, the two standards of matches are strike anywhere matches and safety matches. Matchbooks contain safety matches which contain potassium chlorate. Both the striking strip and the match tip contain these elements and create the energy to generate the flame along with the presence of oxygen (From Encyclopedia Americana, Vol 18, 1993 ed, Grober Incorporated). They still maintain their simple compact folder design with images and advertisements placed on the outside cover.

(All of the Images attached to this Blog are from the Google Images Search at


~ by pchief8675 on 09/13/2007.

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