Two Cornish Pennies

Two Pennies dozen packet label, 93 x 67 mm

Exhibitor : Mike Pryor

The Old Cornish Mine series of British matchboxes is an obsession for me. They first appeared in England on 20th September 1962 and quickly became popular with the public and with matchbox collectors (phillumenists). They were produced by the Cornish Match Company of Halsetown, Cornwall until 1966.

Most of the labels show illustrations of Cornish Tin Mines which operated in the 18th and 19th Centuries and made Cornwall the world leader in tin production. Mining in Cornwall took place from around 2150 BC (Bronze Age) until the South Crofty tin mine in Cornwall closed in 1998. In 1870 Cornwall was the premier tin mining producer in the world with over 2000 working tin mines, but in 1872 tin was discovered in Australia which led again to a collapse in the industry by the 1880s and significant emigration of Cornish miners. Demand for tin during the First World War provided some respite, but the final mine closed in 1998

Wooden matchbox with Two Pennies label


However, a few of the labels in the series do not show Tin Mines, and one of these recently captured my interest : Number 5 TWO PENNIES. It depicts two coins which were in circulation in Cornwall in 1811 and 1812.

This made me ask “why were special coins needed”, “how did they work” and “can I find one” ?


My two Cornish Pennies

My two Cornish Pennies, 35 mm diameter

Luckily, I have now purchased a couple of Cornish Pennies. One is much darker and dirtier than the other.

  • Obverse and Reverse of both coins

    The darker one looks exactly like the left hand one on the matchbox label. It says “Scorrier House. One Pound for 240 tokens. 1812” on the obverse, and “Cornish Penny” with the Fleur de Lys symbol on the reverse

  • The lighter one says “Cornish Penny. 1811” on the obverse and “For the accommodation of the County” on the reverse with a pilchard, four ingots of copper and three blocks of tin
  • both feature a Cornish engine house on the obverse and an old “horse-whim” which was used for raising ore from the pit

I believe the darker one to be a genuine coin, but suspect that the cleaner one is a reproduction from the 1970s. The Scorrier coin shows that 240 tokens were required to make One Pound (because there were twelve Pennies in One Shilling, and twenty Shillings in One Pound).

Coin shortages in the early 19th century

By the late 1700s two-thirds of the coinage in circulation was counterfeit, and Royal Mint actually shut itself down in 1786 meaning that no copper coins were struck by them between 1773 and 1821. This led to a great shortage of small change in the country, which made it very difficult for employers to pay their workers. To fill the gap many private merchants started issuing copper tokens which gained great acceptance across the country.

Portrait of Matthew Boulton by Carl Frederik von Breda, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1797 the financial crisis was severe and the Bank of England stopped redeeming its bills for gold. A contract was awarded to the industrialist Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) of Birmingham to mint copper Pennies and Twopences, which were intended to contain their face value in copper and be hard to counterfeit. His Soho Mint was the first to be powered by steam, and was where the first large copper British Pennies were struck.

However, the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) caused the price of copper and silver to rise dramatically at the start of the 19th century and Government issued coins were being melted down and used for trade. This led again to a massive increase in privately minted tokens which reached a head towards the end of 1811.

Like many businesses across the country, Cornish mine owners began striking their own coins in pure Cornish copper. Being worth nearly their face value they gained complete confidence as fair tender and became acceptable currency in the near neighbourhood. These would then be used in the local shops, pubs etc in exchange for goods or services, in a way similar to today’s credit cards. The local traders would then take the tokens to ‘Count House’ of the issuing mine where they would be exchanged for normal currency. Interestingly, Matthew Boulton owned shares in some Cornish Mines.

End of the private tokens

The issue and use of private tokens, though never actually authorised, was approved by the Government until sufficient good legal coinage could be supplied. In 1816 the Royal Mint started a massive recoinage programme, and in 1817 a Bill was passed prohibiting use of private tokens after 1st January 1818. Most of the surviving tokens were then melted down and sold for metal, hence their extreme rarity.

So I am lucky to have found some Cornish Pennies, and they now sit proudly alongside the Cornish Mine matchboxes in my collection.

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Hinemoa and Tutanekai – a Maori love story

Pohutu Geyser, New Zealand, 1938 all-round-the-box Australian label
Pohutu Geyser, New Zealand, 1938 all-round-the-box Australian label 120 x 55 mm

Exhibitor : Jerry Bell

Towards the centre of the southern part of New Zealand’s North island is the township and area of Rotorua. This area is officially described as an area of geothermal activity, but this description does not really do justice to the vast pools of boiling mud bubbling away 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, all emitting continuous jets of sulphurous steam, added to which is the 30-metre-tall Pohutu geyser, which erupts many times daily. 

Photo credit: The British Library on VisualHunt



A visitor really feels awed by the elements coming up through the earth, and it is quite scary. The whole area and township always has that rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulphide.

Beside Rotorua is a large lake, Lake Rotorua, caused by a volcanic eruption 200,000 years ago. Geothermal activity can also be experienced around the lake, and the water has a greeny blue colour caused by its high sulphur content.

In the middle of the lake is an island, Mokoia Island, which is the setting for a famous Maori love story.

Hinemoa box label, made in Finland
Hinemoa box label, made in Finland 1925-30, 55 x 37 mm



A Maori love story

In a village around the shores of the lake lived a young, noble born, girl, Hinemoa, daughter of a chief. Tribal tradition decreed that the tribe would choose her husband, but no one suitable had been found.

On Mokoia Island lived four brothers, one of whom was Tutanekai. In tribal gatherings, they had caught each other’s eye, but Tutanekai was considered far too lowly born to be suitable for Hinemoa. Hinemoa’s tribe, therefore,  took all the steps they could to prevent her from seeing Tutanekai, including removing all their canoes to a secret place to ensure that they could not meet.

A rare Japanese Maori label, issued around 1930, 53 x 34mm

However, Hinemoa was not to be denied. She was a resourceful young lady, and, although she could probably not swim, she strapped some empty gourds around her to give herself buoyancy, and managed, somehow, to make it out to the island through what would have been very cold water. A hot spring enabled her to warm up when she got to the island.

She waited for Tutanekai’s servant to come to a fresh water spring nearby to replenish his water supply, and, with her face covered, seized the container and broke it. When the servant came a second time, she repeated the action. This caused an angry Tutanekai himself to come and see what was going on, and Hinemoa revealed herself to him.

Japanese label depicting the Arawa Maori
Japanese label depicting the Arawa Maori, 1915-20, 34 x 55 mm


From that day on, they were inseparable, and the tribal approval was given to their union. Mokoia Island is now uninhabited and considered sacred by the Arawa Maori.

This is a true story, and descendants of Hinemoa and Tutanekai are reputed to live in Rotorua to this day. It is also a lovely story to find behind such a plain Finnish label.


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Porcelain Matchstrikers by Conta and Boehme

A pair of multicoloured Conta & Boehme porcelain matchstrikers #4248. Glazed finish.
A pair of multicoloured Conta & Boehme porcelain matchstrikers #4248. Glazed finish.

Exhibitor : Alan Downer

Friction matches were an essential item for obtaining a “light” (flame) during the second half of 19th and throughout most of the 20th century. They are small and could be dangerous if not suitably handled or stored. This led to many designs of match holder, produced in which to store them. This exhibit shows one such type, Porcelain Matchstrikers made by Conta & Boehme at their factory in Poessneck, Germany. This factory was responsible for many porcelain pieces, but my interest is in their matchstrikers.

The matchstrikers were designed to hold a quantity of strike-anywhere type matches, in common use, which could be struck on any rough surface. To be classed as a “matchstriker” they must have a ridged area onto which it was intended to light a match and a receptacle to hold matches. Some models were produced as a “pair” and some were “single”. Most have a factory mark on their base, together with a model number and in some cases a mark of the artist that painted them. Many of them are multicoloured and include a small painted flower in their design.

Some models can also be found in ‘blue and white’ and in ‘green and white’. Some models were made in various colourways and in different sizes. Some are captioned in gold, blue or black script, although the majority of the matchstrikers were not captioned. Most are highly glazed. They were highly fashionable at one time, but being of German origin fell from favour following the wars with Germany in the 20th century. Over the years many were removed from display in homes in Britain and the United States of America where they were most popular. Being made of fine white porcelain, then decorated and glazed, they can be easily damaged. The years have not been kind to many of the survivors, suffering chips, breakages and poor repairs. There are many models to be found, and a collection of them, especially in perfect condition, makes a fine display.

The front and back views of a pair of multicoloured Conta & Boehme porcelain matchstrikers #4288. Note, the painted flower in their design, receptacle for holding matches and ridged area for rubbing strike-anywhere type matches. Glazed finish.
A “single” model, caption “The Daily News” #4277. Glazed finish.






The term “Fairings” is often used for Conta & Boehme pieces. However, the term was coined for the captioned Porcelain pieces. Most of the Porcelain Matchstrikers made by Conta & Boehme are not captioned. “Fairings” are usually the earlier pieces given at fairs as prizes. I believe that the Matchstrikers were mainly later editions, probably sold mostly in shops in Britain and probably also exported to America to be sold in shops. Therefore, I do not usually refer to them as “Fairings”. This term is a bit like “go-to-beds” which is a term used later than the production of the items. A catchy, fashionable term, but not exactly a correct description.

The porcelain factory in Poessneck of Johnann Tobias Albert started to produce successful pieces in 1802, after a couple of years of experimentation. The factory was sold to Albrecht (Albert) Wilhelm Ernst Conta and Christian Gottlieb Boehme in 1814. The factory continued to produce porcelain pieces under the name “Conta & Boehme” until it closed in 1931. The production dates of Conta & Boehme Porcelain Matchstrikers is unclear, but which would be after 1850 and most likely up until the factory closed in 1931. The earlier Matchstrikers produced exhibit Victorian influence in their design.

Here are some Matchstrikers from my collection, click on an image below to enlarge it and see the Matchstrikers.

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Scheinost cylindrical boxes

Two complete Scheinost boxes, late 19th century, 5 cm high x 2.5 cm diameter
Two complete Scheinost boxes, late 19th century, 5 cm high x 2.5 cm diameter

Exhibitor : Vladimír Steiner

The main focus of my collection is matchbox labels from the match factories situated in my region. Matches were first made in Czechia in the mid 19th century, and the two most successful factories were in the town of Sušice near Pilsen which were owned by Mr. Vojtěch Scheinost and Mr. Bernard Fürth respectively.

Photo credit : nezjištěn (neznámí), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


The subject of this Exhibit is boxes which Mr Scheinost made for export to Serbia, in the middle of the 19th century. The boxes are cylindrical, with labels attached around them, and are now very rare.

In the effort to strengthen the export to Serbia, Mr. Scheinost registered 11 trade marks in the years 1876-77 for labels that showed important events from the history of the Serbian nation. The upper part of the labels have writing : Narodna palidrvca (= National Matches).

Scheinost boxes were exported for many more years to Serbia and that is why more variations of this set exist.



Here are some cylindrical Scheinost labels from my collection, click on an image below to enlarge it and see the labels.

In more recent history, in 1878-79 the Balkan countries broke free from Turkish domination with help of Russia and the independent Kingdom of Serbia was founded.

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Surcharges on Portuguese Matchboxes

1911 matchbox with surcharge sticker

Exhibitor : Joel Viana de Lemos

Click here for Portuguese language version


It was not until 1895 that Portuguese matchboxes displayed the selling price to the public, and this was because the government stipulated that the newly created national concessionaire Companhia Portugueza de Phosphoros (CP) did so.

1911 surcharge sticker for 2 centavos

With the establishment of the Portuguese Republic on 5th October 1910, the Portuguese currency was renamed from the Real to the Escudo. This meant that CP, and possibly some distributors/sellers, had to change the price of the labels and matchboxes they had in manufacture, distribution or storage. They used Surcharge Stickers and Surcharge Overprints to update the price on their boxes to that new currency. The Escudo was divided into 100 centavos. 


1920 matchbox with overprint of 8 centavos in blue
1920 matchbox with overprint of 8 centavos in black


In a period of strong inflation between 1918 and 1923 significant and periodic price changes were authorized, which implied the same need  to update the price of labels and matchboxes that were in manufacture, distribution or storage.


This time the factory decided to overprint the old price with figures made by steel punches using black oil ink, and the distributors/sellers stamped the boxes in blue ink using numerals made in rubber and stamp pad.


In the late 1970s and 1980s there were again high rates of inflation with consequent price increases. The two match factories then in operation in Portugal – the Sociedade Nacional de Fósforos (SNF) and the Fosforeira Portuguesa (FP) – were faced with the same problem as their predecessors, but they had to update bookmatches as well as card matchboxes (skillets), and decided to overprint the new approved price over the old one.

Since 1990 the selling price is no longer displayed on matchboxes or bookmatches in Portugal.

Here is a selection of surcharge stickers, surcharge overprints, matchboxes, bookmatches and skillets showing the range of methods used by the factories to update the prices on their stock. The Catalogue number of each item is also indicated (e.g. CP 73). Click on an image below to enlarge it.

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Blue Cross brand, made in England

Blue Cross packet label from Nitedals in Norway, 98 x 71 mm

Exhibitor : Pat Stevens

Blue Cross is one of the most well known brands of matchboxes in the UK. This is mainly because in the 1960s and 70s many Blue Cross boxes and skillets were imported and it became all pervasive on the supermarket and tobacconist’s shelves. 

Three brands, then one

At the beginning of the 20th century three brands were being imported into the UK from the Nitedals factory in Norway : Blue Cross, Red Cross and White Cross. Matches were first manufactured in Norway in 1838, and the Nitedal factory was established in 1863.

However, by 1915 only Blue Cross was produced. Over the following years the brand became very well established and had several different nationwide promotion campaigns. 

This meant that all Blue Cross labels say “Made in Norway” – or so I thought !

You can therefore imagine my surprise when, as a young collector in the 1960s, I discovered a Blue Cross label which said “Made in England”. I couldn’t believe it, and decided to write to the company to find out more. This was in the days of writing letters by hand and posting them in a red letterbox.

The only two Blue Cross matchbox labels from England, made during WWII by J John Masters in London

Blue Cross comes to England

I received a lovely personal letter from the managing director of the importers confirming that the labels were completely genuine and explaining the circumstances in which they were produced. He told me :

  • During the second world war the production of matches in the UK was government controlled and all imports were stopped
  • Under this legislation the J John Masters factory in Barking, near London, produced two runs of Blue Cross labels in order to keep the brand alive, and both these labels say “Made in England”

I was thrilled to learn about this fascinating piece of matchbox history, and it spurred me on to continue collecting and researching. Of course. these two Blue Cross labels will always have a special place in my collection.

J John Masters stopped trading in 1975, and in 1981 Nitedals Match Co. stopped trading in London with Blue Cross imported from Sweden for a few years before stopping altogether.

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Three Stars in the Icelandic night sky

Three Stars boxes on sale in Iceland today

Exhibitor : Gísli Jóhann Sigurðsson

Three Stars is a well-known brand around the world, and is still on sale here in Iceland on boxes made by Swedish Match. Over 20 years ago they made a series of skillets with text in Icelandic about nature conservation, which were very popular.

Three Stars is one of the earliest brands that I collected, and it still makes me think about the stars in the Icelandic night sky.


Orion’s Belt

School book about Astronomy

When I was a boy sitting in a dark clear winter night on the steps of my home I would gaze up at the sky in wonder. We had been given a map book at school and on the back of it was a star map with instructions on how to use it : look north, hold the book over your head so that the name of the month is read directly through the eyes, and the map will show the starry sky at 10 pm (22.00).

Orion’s Belt. Photo credit: cafuego on Visualhunt

Back then I knew the three bright stars which form Orion’s Belt by their Icelandic name Fjósakonur (Cowgirls).  As I sat on the steps, those three stars were over the peaks of the mountains beyond the fjord, and because I knew these three stars in the sky it was easy to find and learn about the stars around them using this map.

Later I learned that the three stars in Orion’s Belt are called as Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka.


Summer in Iceland

In the summer here in Iceland the evenings are bright and there is no need for electric lights. On the longest day (21st June) the sun goes down almost to the sea and rises again.  The moment when it is almost down and starts to rise again is very special, and magical.

My hot tub
My summerhouse

Unfortunately there is now so much light pollution in town that you have to drive outside the city to see the stars (or in winter to see the northern lights).

Luckily I have a wonderful summerhouse in the country which I built many years ago with my two brothers in law, where we can lie in the hot tub in the evenings and search for the three stars in the sky.


Here is the set of Three Stars skillets with Icelandic text which were on sale in Iceland in the 1980s, together with examples of the same designs used in Norway and Denmark at the same time. Click on an image to enlarge it.

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19th century scrapbook albums, 21st century treasure

A page from a late 19th century scrapbook album

Exhibitor : Jesús María Bollo García

Click here for Spanish language version


When a Phillumenist comes across a 19th century scrapbook album they have in their hands a real treasure chest for two reasons : on the one hand it contains many matchbox labels that are not usually found in the shops or in auctions, and, in addition, an opportunity to spend many hours enhancing their own collections while looking through the beautiful scrapbook.

The most elaborate scrapbook albums (and therefore the real treasures) feature covers either of leather or other materials with sewn and well-bound pages, like the one below.

Who made the scrapbook albums ?

In order to understand how and why these scrapbook albums appear we need to go back to the time when they were made : a world completely different from our current one, in which there was neither light, nor leisure, nor universal free education, nor a living wage, etc. etc.

Workers at Pascasio Lizarbe’s match factory, late 19th century. Photo credit : Archivo Luis Tarazona Vallejo

We need to bear in mind that in the late 19th Century children and young people began working at a very early age and with schedules that would be considered completely unacceptable today (just look at the photos that exist, for example; of the workers of the Pascasio Lizarbe Factory, mostly young girls). A high percentage of the population was illiterate and families had few belongings, with little time to devote to leisure (in Spain the Sunday rest day wasn’t implemented until 3rd June 1904). The typical workday was 14 to 16 hours a day, which was logically not really a stimulus to devote time and money to creating a scrapbook album of matchbox labels.

My conclusion therefore is that the people who made these albums must have come from families of a medium or high status, because they needed money and they needed time for such a detailed artisan undertaking.

How were the albums made ?

There are many different examples of scrapbook albums, but they all start with large sheets of paper or card onto which the labels are glued. Sometimes the labels were laid out in order and sometimes just as they were acquired rows, like these :

But often the “Phillumenist” used their own imagination to enhance the collection by incorporating other items of common “ephemera” such as die-cut cards, prints, chocolate cards. And sometimes they would add their own pen-and-ink drawings :

The creativity, skill and attention to detail of the maker was almost limitless, as these examples show :

As you can see from the first to the last photo the treasure contained in any scrapbook album speaks for itself.

Good luck searching, and I hope you also find your own treasure.

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Distilling the essence of a Country onto a label

French matchbox labels, 1970s

Exhibitor : Ian Macilwain

The appeal of matchbox label collecting for me has always been derived from the way in which different countries and cultures represent the same thing.

The style, colour, use of a particular font and level of complexity all reveal something of the national psyche condensed into an extremely small space.


Polish matchbox labels, 1970s



Choosing a subject to demonstrate this was difficult but national costume is a common theme, reflected by the French in a simple classic design and by the Poles in a colourful rhythm as if dancing.




I have many other countries in my collection but for this Exhibition I have chosen those which most appealed to me. I hope they capture your imagination as they did mine. Click on an image below to enlarge it and see the national costumes of each Country.

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Ian Macilwain (UK)

Exhibit : Distilling the essence of a Country onto a label

Scottish Bluebell label 50 x 112 mm, ca. 1961
Scottish Bluebell label 50 x 112 mm, ca. 1961

I was propelled into collecting labels at the age of 12 when, leaning over a fence waiting for the school bus I set eyes on a box of Scottish Bluebell which attracted my attention (I was in Hampshire and this was a rare label to me probably dropped by a soldier, as it was an Army camp). My friend who was with me wanted it for his collection but I decided somewhat selfishly that it would make a good start to mine !!

I joined the BML&BS in 1970 and was a member for ten years, lapsing when I had a wife and children. I specialised in Eastern Europe and had many collector pen pals in The DDR, Czechoslovakia and Poland.

The hobby has never lost its allure and now that I am retired I am revisiting the fantastic archive which the collection had become. Every label carries a story and is like a time capsule to my childhood years.

Maybe with advancing years I will re-find the fascination that I used to have for this unusual hobby. Somewhat ironically I have lived in Scotland for half my life surrounded by more Scottish Bluebells than I would care to count.

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Middleton family (UK)

Alan, Mark and Padraig
Alan, Mark and Padraig

Exhibit : My great grandfather met Queen Victoria

Grandfather Alan Middleton joined the society in 1969 and son Mark and grandson Padraig joined in 2021.

Published 2018
Published 2018

Alan’s interests in phillumeny are mainly pre World War Two labels and British Bookmatches, and he enjoys researching the history of labels. He has written a number of books and articles about the match manufacturers in the North of England. 

On the other hand Mark and Padraig are interested in the designs and artwork of matchbox labels.

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My great grandfather met Queen Victoria

Blue Bobby label, from Jonkopings factory in Sweden, early 20th Century, 32 x 55 mm

Exhibitor : Middleton family

Matchbox labels with Policemen on them have always fascinated me, and recent discoveries while researching my family history help me understand why this is : our family had three generations of men who served in the London Metropolitan Police from 1870-1947 and a Great Uncle who served in the Middlesbrough Police Force from 1922-1945. They all had exemplary service records.

Albert Ferrett

One of these ancestors, my maternal great grandfather Albert Ferrett (1870-1946), enrolled in the Met. on the 13th April 1891 and was discharged to pension on the 14th January 1918 with the rank of Inspector. He was based at New Scotland Yard.

While he was serving in the Metropolitan Police he was present at three Royal events : Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, King Edward VII’s Coronation in 1902 and King George V’s Coronation in 1911.

Metropolitan Police 1897 Medal PC Ferrett, Metropolitan Police 1902 Coronation medal PC A FERRETT C.O. DIV, Metropolitan Police 1911 Coronation Medal INSP A FERRETT

I am therefore proud to say that my great grandfather not only ‘met’ Queen Victoria but he also ‘met’ Edward VII and George V – quite an honour, for which he was awarded commemorative medals by the force.


Although we can’t be certain, and to quote the well known schoolboy folk song, we like to think that Albert would have also met the Prime Minister Lloyd George during WWI carrying out his policing duties!!

Royalty matchboxes

There are many matchbox labels depicting Royalty from all around the world, but I wanted to feature labels that Albert would almost certainly have known and come across in the streets of London and which celebrate these three Royal events. Click on an image below to enlarge it and see the label.

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Simon Blackman (UK)

Exhibit : Merwanjee Nanabhoy Mehta

I was introduced to the collecting of matchboxes, matchbooks, labels and more by a family friend who had worked in the Far East and who had a nice album of labels and skillets from Hong Kong that he would show me occasionally. Early on I fell into the same trap as many fledgling collectors with skillets thinned and trimmed; matchbooks bobtailed; and everything stuck into albums with rubber glue and Sellotape. So, 10 years in, my collection had to be thrown out and I started all over again!  

In the intervening years I had come across a presentation pack from the Cornish Match obtained when I went to Cornwall on holiday; and learned of the existence of the British Matchbox Label and Booklet Society. A lifetime friendship with David Van Der Plank would later follow.

Three complete rare Indian matchboxes, from WIMCO


Initially I started collecting Indian labels because they were cheap, numerous in number and easy to purchase.

Slowly I branched out to other Asian countries though, somehow, I have never had the desire to collect labels from Japan or Sri Lanka (Ceylon). 

Gradually I became more interested in researching matchbox history and making my findings available to other collectors.

Two pages from my book


I was in an advantageous situation as my daytime job as a computer support officer at the University of Liverpool allowed me access to research resources only available to academics. I then took night school classes in Mandarin Chinese so that I could understand labels bearing Chinese characters. A book followed (“Towards a Better Understanding of Chinese Matchbox Labels: A Beginners Guide to Translation”) and now that I have retired am working on updating and extending it.

Today I am as interested in researching the history of match manufacture as collecting matchbox labels!

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Merwanjee Nanabhoy Mehta

Merwanjee Nanabhoy Mehta

Exhibitor : Simon Blackman

Merwanjee Nanabhoy Mehta (M. N. Mehta) was born into a parsi family on 1 October 1857. He studied in Bombay until the age of 13 when hard times fell on his family, and they were forced to move to Navsari – a town in Gujarat some 130 miles away. He and his brother Dorab continued their studies at the Sir Cowasji Jehagirji Madrasa in Navsari. When he was 17 years old, his uncle, Edulji Navroji Mehta, at the time an established businessman in China, came to Navsari from China.  Edulji was impressed with the young Merwanjee and sent him to Calcutta where he studied at St Xaviers College for a further 3 years.

After graduating he joined a small trading company at a modest salary. An ambitious man he did not remain at the firm for long. Instead, he asked his uncle Edulji to call him to China, in the hope of starting his own trading business.  In reply his uncle sent him 13 crates of gold-plated bangles worth Rs 4000. These were very popular in India at the time.  In 1879, using his own capital, he started his own business.  Initially, he imported glass bangles from the Qing empire to the Raj. His business flourished and he began to diversify his portfolio. Soon he was importing goods from Austria, Germany, Great Britain and Japan as well. With the money he made, he attempted to set up manufacturing businesses in India.

Some Mehta labels from Calcutta, 36 x 56 mm


He established a glass works in Calcutta called the M.N. Mehta Glass Works and a match-making establishment in Ooty. (Ooty also known as Ootacamund is a city in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.) 

Unfortunately, the manufacturing businesses did not flourish, and he soon abandoned them, preferring to focus instead on the import trade. His success in the international trade was truly unparalleled.

In 1897 he travelled to China and set up offices in Canton. Later, in 1915 he opened offices in Kobe, Japan. By the end of the Great War his business empire stretched across the globe.


Some more Mehta labels, most 36 x 56 mm



It is also known that his connection with match manufacture did not end at Ooty. In the Indian Tariff Board investigation of the Match Industry in 1928 there is further detail of another match factory owned by M. N. Mehta. It commenced manufacture on 15 November 1925 at 80 and 104 Ultadingi Main Road in Calcutta.

Producing half and full-size boxes its output was 2,500 gross per day and was fully mechanised – equipped with the best German and Japanese equipment available at that time. Evidence was also provided in person to the Indian Tariff Board by his son Pirojshah on 7 February 1928.

The Mehta labels illustrated here are all from Calcutta. Until recently I did not even know of the existence of the Ooty (Ootacamund) factory : Mehta’s son did not mention it, and it does not appear in R.S Troup’s book “Indian Forest Memoirs, 1908”. I have never seen a label from Mehta bearing Ooty, or any other label bearing the location Ooty.

End of the family business

When Merwanjee Nanabhoy Mehta died on 14 July 1928 at the age of 71, he was one of the wealthiest men in the Raj. By that time however, the networks of international trade that had evolved since the late nineteenth century were also in the process of being radically transformed. A combination of new economic policies pushed through by local manufacturing interests such as the Birlas, with support from the powerful new nationalist politicians, and the effects of the Great Depression, led to the demise of many of the international networks of trade that businesses such as his depended on. Upon his death, his son Pirojshah inherited the massive empire, but not one that was well placed to survive in the new, more nationally oriented commercial age that was emerging. Unfortunately, Pirojshah was not able to replicate his father’s success in this rapidly changing environment and the Mehta enterprise began to collapse with remarkable speed. The massive, multinational business empire that the enterprising Merwanjee had established from scratch did not even survive a decade under Pirojshah’s stewardship. By 1935, a mere seven years after Merwanjee’s death, the entire business was finally wound up.

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Rupert Harris (UK)

Exhibit : Postcards from Bryant and May

I am Rupert Harris. I live a few miles from the old Moreland’s Match factory in Gloucester, England which Bryant & May acquired in 1913 and was closed in 1976. I have been collecting Bryant & May Hardware and Ephemera for over 40 years. My mother was a passionate collector and I very often accompanied her around the antiques shops, fairs and markets. At the tender age of ten she encouraged me not only to look out for items that may be of interest to her but also to follow her footsteps and become a collector myself; but of what? 

The Moreland’s factory was a landmark that we often passed and was very visible especially at night. For many years including after the closure of the match factory, the neon signage above the main entrance gate continued to brighten the night sky. Still there today, it comprises a pair of crossed matches and went through an ongoing looped sequence of both brown wooden splints lighting up, then the two red match heads, which then both burst into a flickering flame before brief darkness and the repeat of the cycle. 

Some brief research established that Gloucester had previously been the second largest manufacturing centre in the country behind London. The decision to become a phillumenist had been made and the collecting began. Within a year the wise decision, owing to budgetary restriction (pocket money, parent generosity) led to the narrowing of the collection to items bearing the words upon them of ‘Bryant & May’.

Harlequin Matches Third Edition
Harlequin Matches Third Edition



In 2008 I published a book about Bryant and May’s range of Harlequin Matches which is now in its third edition which adds in even more information about these fantastically colourful matchboxes.



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Postcards from Bryant and May

Large-size postcard, part of a series from holiday destinations

Exhibitor : Rupert Harris

One small part of my collection is postcards. Nothing says “wish you were here” quite as well as the good old postcard. Once a quintessential element in the travel experience, crafting a ten-line missive for the folks back home (saucy for the colleagues at work, respectful to the relatives), was as much a part of your two-week break as sunburn and sandals. Now a postcard can cost anything up to £35.

Patented in the U.S. in the mid nineteenth century, the first postcard was created for the World Fair in Chicago in 1893. In Britain it enjoyed its heyday in the 1930’s and 1940’s with the growth of the seaside holiday resorts.

Will the postcard survive the digital age? The Royal mail advises that postcards are more popular than they were a few years ago and that it is presently processing around 135 million per year. Postcards typically measure 90 x 140 mm.

The subjects are many and varied. On display here there are examples of postcards that were produced under the commission of Bryant and May to commemorate special occasions, depict Bryant and May factories, advertise a product or just endorse the company. Click on an image below to enlarge it and see the postcard – you may need a magnifying glass to see the Bryant and May advert!

Here are a few more, vertical postcards.

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