Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Matchbooks, or match covers, at one time were something that a number of people collected. My dad started collecting matchbooks when he was a teenager in the 1930's and saved them until his death in 1984. Maybe this was something that people took up in the Depression era because it was kinda fun and didn't cost anything as most matchbooks were given away as advertising. So, my dad's matchbook collection is one of the few tangible remains of his presence on earth. It has sat in storage for decades at my mother's house and I brought it home with me on my last trip. Since it isn't practical to count them, all I can do is estimate how many are there. I would say, perhaps three or four thousand. Most of them fit in a 20 gallon galvanized garbage can, but there are also a few shirt boxes and a five gallon popcorn tin full that won't fit into the 20 gallon can. Recently, I made a first pass through them to make an attempt to sort them into some kind of order. The majority of them seem to fall into what is called now the "hospitality business" category, meaning restaurants and places of lodging. There is a goodly number of matchbooks that relate to the automobile business since that was my dad's line of work. There is also a quantity of military-related items, because he had been an Air Force officer, first active and later reservist. In that batch, there are O-Club matchbooks from all over, from Walter Reed Medical Center to Edwards AFB and everywhere else in between. I even recognize a few that I obtained for him while I was on active duty.
One bunch that I segregated out were what I consider having no value. These filled a brown Kraft paper shopping bag half full and these were the likes of "Get Your High School Diploma" and "California Driving School" plus a certain number of blanks and other generic, meaningless pieces. Those are only good for, well, lighting fires.
It has occurred to me that the future of matchbook collecting is probably pretty grim. I feel this is true mainly because these items are rarely given out as a form of advertising any longer. I'm sure that this has something to do with the fact that tobacco use is greatly reduced compared to former times, and the practice of smoking itself is almost considered socially incorrect. Many businesses might not want people to think they were condoning smoking by offering complimentary matches.
I get very hungry looking through all of these matchbooks. Many of the matchbooks are for restaurants that are no longer in existence. From the area where I used to live, I recognize many of them as places where I have eaten. I think things like, "Wow, they had the best (fill in the blank) there" and I wonder why they are all gone now. So much of the restaurant food we get now all tastes the same and is no longer unique from place to place. I miss the many independent coffee shops and restaurants that have mostly gone away.