Designer Collector: Matchcovers
Sara Wong Provisional RGD, shares her extensive collection of matchcover, matchboxes and all related items.
A set of decorative matchcovers that Saul Bass Associates designed for Hunt Foods (Hunt-Wesson) in the 1960s.
What do you collect?
I collect match-related items — mainly matchcovers but I’ve recently started adding some matchboxes to my collection too. I have roughly 1,100 items in my collection. To store them, I first carefully remove and dispose of the matches, flatten them (unless they’re matchboxes) and then slide them into archival binder sleeves.
I started collecting matchcovers in 2016.
Like so many designers, I love printed ephemera. I’ve always enjoyed going to antique stores to sift through old books, posters, zines and other small, printed pieces.
During one of my visits, I found a box filled with hundreds of old matchbooks from various cities across North America. I bought the entire box and spent the next few days looking through them; I was drawn to the charming typography, illustrations and creative uses of colour and overprinting.
These are a few of the matchcovers from that first box that I found.
After that, I became really interested in learning about phillumeny, which is the term for collecting match-related items. I started actively seeking out matchcovers and purchasing from other collectors. Since then, my collection has grown a lot, but I’m still constantly wowed by the countless beautiful covers that I come across.
On a more general note, many of my family members are also into collecting stuff; it’s safe to say they’ve influenced my appreciation for collecting and preservation!
How does it inspire you as a designer?
For such a small item, they pack a lot of punch.
There are so many wonderful examples of custom typography and illustrations, unexpected colour palettes and stunning wordmarks and logos from businesses that are long defunct. It’s interesting how matchbooks, which were so common and disposable, are sometimes the only artifacts that remain from a place.
I’m also impressed by the creative ways designers have worked with the form of the matchbook or matchbox. Sometimes I’ll come across a matchbox with a patterned or typographic striker. Sometimes the graphic spans across the entire exterior, turning the matchcover into a miniature billboard. Sometimes there’s printing on the matchsticks themselves. It’s also a nice treat finding a map or illustration tucked away on the interior. For me, finding these details is one of my favourite parts of collecting matchbooks and matchboxes.
It’s so hard to narrow down! I’ve recently acquired a few matchboxes I’m excited about — most notably a set of fruit-themed matchboxes made by the French manufacturer SEITA. They’re so charming and feel very contemporary despite probably being a few decades old. As a cat lover, I’m partial to a matchbox that features the cat from Otl Aicher’s Munich Olympics identity. I also recently came across a matchbox with a black circle on the front which has quite an enigmatic feel.
Beyond those, I’m drawn to matchbooks that are historically or culturally of value such as matchbooks for LGBTQ+ spaces that no longer exist, or matchbooks for arts-related events that took place decades ago. Preserving these small pieces of history is another part of what makes collecting ephemera so worthwhile.
An item you aspire to have in your collection?
I would love to have matchcovers designed by Tibor Kalman’s studio M&Co., or any of the matchcovers designed by Alexander Girard. They can be found online but they tend to sell quickly and can cost a pretty penny. I’m hoping one day I’ll be lucky enough to stumble across one!
If you would like to see more, I post them over on Instagram at @aphillumenist
Sara Wong Provisional RGD is a graphic designer based in Toronto. She works at The Office of Gilbert Li where she’s worked with a variety of cultural institutions and non-profit organizations. She graduated in 2017 from Conestoga College.
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