Vladimír Steiner (Czech Republic)

Exhibit : Sets of Six

I am 75 years old and I collect matchbox labels from my youth. I started collecting labels issued for the Czechoslovak domestic market and later I continued with the Czechoslovak labels for export.

In the last 50 years I have been collecting all labels from the former Austro-Hungarian empire.

This hobby brings me great pleasure and I make friends with many collectors in my country as well as abroad. I am member of the British Matchbox Label and Bookmatch Society.

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José Ventura García (Spain)

Exhibit : The man who designed Spain (also designed matchboxes)

In 1968 while I was working in a jewellery shop in the Plaza de Chueca, Madrid, another apprentice who was there with me gave me a box of matches. It was “El Augusto”, a clown drawn only with geometric strokes by Cruz Novillo + Olmos. The box immediately caught my attention, and I decided there and then that I was going to collect them because I thought that no one else would collect them and that I was inventing a new hobby, and although it obviously wasn’t true that was how my collecting adventure began over 53 years ago.

Behind the Plaza de Chueca is Pelayo street where you could find a tobacconist’s kiosk, and on the outside of which was a vending machine which sold boxes of matches from Fósforos del Pirineo for 1 peseta each. Whenever I had any spare money I would buy boxes and quickly noticed that they all showed different characters, people and animals related to the circus, and I kept on buying them until I had collected all 20 different boxes in the Series. The tobacconist was still there in 2015, and although the vending machine is long gone I am lucky enough to now have one in my collection.

My first box (El Augusto)
My first box (El Augusto)
My first three Series : the Circus, Balloons and ABC animals, in their souvenir packaging 
My first three Series : the Circus, Balloons and ABC animals, in their souvenir packaging 
Fósforos del Pirineo vending machine
Fósforos del Pirineo vending machine










I now specialise in collecting Spanish matchboxes and studying the Spanish matchbox industry.

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The Portuguese presence in India

19th Century Spanish all-round-the-box label

Exhibitor : Joel Viana de Lemos

Click here for Portuguese language version


On July 8th, 1497, a fleet of three sailing ships left Lisbon – the S. Gabriel, the S. Rafael and the Bérrio – and a small ship with supplies. The fleet was commanded by the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama and aimed to discover the maritime route from Europe to India.

Map showing the outward and return routes taken by Vasco de Gama on the very first sea voyage between Europe and India


On May 17th, 1498, the fleet reached Kappakadavu, near Calicut, in the present Indian state of Kerala.


A model of the sailing ship S. Gabriel made from matchsticks


In addition to the important trade relationships it established, Portugal maintained a permanent presence in the state of Goa for around 450 years, until 1961.



Match industry in Goa

A postcard showing the COMPANHIA FOSFOREIRA DE GOA , LTDA (Ponda – Goa)


The most important match factory in Goa was the Companhia Fosforeira de Goa, LDA




Some of the matchboxes produced by this factory can be seen below.

Note: On each label and matchbox are indicated the references of the “Catálogo das etiquetas de caixas de fósforos – Portugal / Catalogue of Portuguese Matchbox labels” published in 1996 and 2013 and on the last four labels the references of the Swedish catalogue “Katalog över Svenska Tändsticksetiketter” published by Arne Tejder in 1963. Measurements refer to the printed area and are in millimetres.

A few labels are also known from other factories in Goa.

  1. Goa Match Works
  2. B&C Industrial Factory – St Cruz, Goa
  3. Bragança Y Ca – Nova Goa

The Gallery below shows all the known matchbox labels produced in Goa. Click on an image to enlarge it.

The following packet labels are from Companhia Fosforeira de Goa:

The Gallery below shows two matchbox labels and their respective packet labels, made for matchboxes which were exported to Goa by the Swedish factory Jönköpings Westra Tändstickfabrik.

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The man who designed Spain (also designed matchboxes)

José María Cruz Novillo (b. Cuenca, 1936)

Exhibitor : José Ventura García

Click here for Spanish language version


In 1968 the Spanish Match company Fósforos del Pirineo S. A. (FOPSA) issued some beautiful, highly colourful sets of matchboxes using very modern designs which had been created by José María Cruz Novillo, the man who designed Spain.

Born in Cuenca in 1936, he gave up his Law studies in 1957 and started working as a cartoonist in the Madrid company Publicidad Clarin. This is where his stratospheric artistic design career began, leading to the formation of his own design studio in 1969  Today his designs are very well known not only in Spain but also across the world, including corporate images for companies like Correos (Post Office), Tesoro Público (treasury), Comunidad de Madrid (Madrid local government), PSOE (politcal party), COPE (Radio Station), El Mundo (newspaper), El Economista (newspaper), Antena 3 Radio, banknotes for the Banco de España, and the Fundación ONCE (National Institute for the Blind) amongst many others. Sr Cruz Novillo is a true pioneer of contemporary Spanish design.

The FOPSA series

Let’s go back to 1968 when Sr Novillo had been working for 11 years in the design industry and he was contracted by FOPSA to work on their new series of matchboxes. FOPSA was founded in 1967, the same year that Sr Novillo started his new career as a designer.

Amongst the many series that he designed I want to highlight four : ABC Animales, El Belén, El Circo y Rompecabezas Pop, which for me are the most appealing in terms of their variety, colour and creative imagination.

Admiring his designs

Let’s take a look at one of these series from FOPSA : El Circo (The Circus). We’ll show every part of the set in order to appreciate the striking drawings which came from the mind and hands of José María Cruz Novillo.

Firstly let’s look at the presentation box from this set, which is made of cardboard and shows a minstrel with his medieval stringed instrument. The company name and series name are printed on the front of the box, and the back also has the company name and also Sr Novillo’s. There is a red inner tray which contains all the matchboxes 

This is a set of 20 card matchboxes, each box has an individual drawing depicting a character from the circus such as the clown (el payaso), the illusionist (el ilusionista), the acrobats (los acrobatas) and the sword swallower (el tragasables). The drawing is on the front of the box together with “Cruz Novillo + Olmos” (Luís del Olmo Alonso was the other artist), and on the back is the name of the company.

In total FOPSA issued over 20 series designed by Cruz Novillo. Although he never again designed matchboxes (so far), his work in 1968 undoubtedly contributed to the success of the match company which finally closed its doors in 1992.

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Sets of Six

Set of Six – Maharajas, uncut sheet 101 x 100 mm

Exhibitor : Vladimír Steiner

I have been collecting matchbox labels since my childhood. I started with the Czech labels glued on the boxes, later I went on by sorting these labels according to a catalogue. For the last thirty years my main hobby has been collecting old labels from the period of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867 – 1918).

Some of the most beautiful labels from this period are the so-called “Sets of Six” – mostly glazed coloured pictorial labels, dating from 1903 to1914.

In 1903 six of the biggest matchbox-factories in the Austro-Hungarian Empire established a joint-stock company SOLO with headquarters in Vienna, with the main aim to be stronger and to be able to compete against the Swedish concerns in markets such as India, Far East, Turkey, America, etc. “Sets of Six” together with high quality matches and boxes helped to increase export into these regions.

Below you can see three of these sets still in uncut blocks. An individual label would measure 33 x 50 mm. About 150 different Sets of Six are known.

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From error to deception

Exhibitor : Jesús María Bollo García

Click here for Spanish language version

In any work activity, at any time, an ERROR can occur, but once detected it is corrected and everything returns to normal.

Let’s look at some examples of well-known errors on Spanish match boxes:

  • Inserts (Fototipias), Series 1 from 1896, Numbers 13, 26, 39, 51, 63 and 75 : mirror image
  • Inserts (Fototipias), Series A from 1909, Number 64 : changed name                                  

Moroder Brothers Factory in Valencia 1870-1890, errors in the Series “La Peste de Otranto”, “La Mascota” and “Las Hijas de Eva” : missing number and/or mirror image.

Fosforera Española, Football Club Shields 1957, number 3 Atlético de Bilbao : changed image

Fosforera Española:

  • Dogs series 1964 : changed name
  • Don Quijote series 1965 : changed wording
  • Trains series 1968 : changed wording

But another very different case is the one that occurred repeatedly in the series of Artists that the Gremio de Fabricantes issued in the late 19th century. (The Gremio was formed through a law passed on 30th June 1892 taking the match industry into government control). A consequence of this move was that each factory in the Gremio was assigned a number of boxes to produce but without worrying excessively about the precision of the images printed on the labels, as we can see here:

Some of these artists became very famous and the Gremio wanted to keep offering boxes with their image on. However, the artists were too busy to come and pose for new photos, so the printers had to re-use the old negatives. But of course, when making new images from the same negatives it is almost impossible to use exactly the same focal length as the first time, which explains why there are many similar-but-different labels of the same artist.

In this case the variation was in width not height of the image, where we can see the gradually disappearing monument located on the right side. It was always the same reason : the lack of planning, processing and supply by the printers to the different factories.

In the labels above the artist’s left hand gradually disappears until it does so completely. Same cause, same result.

The main problem that the printers had was how to produce a large quantity of labels for the many match factories throughout Spain. Therefore, either due to a lack of photographs or because they didn’t want to pay for new ones, many printers decided that the quickest, cheapest and easiest solution was to change the name of the Artist on the label.

The DECEPTION is now clear to the collector. Given the time period (1982-1910) and the huge number of Artists in the series of labels it was difficult to study every single detail. Nobody knows how many times the same Artist’s name was changed, modified or altered.

These Gremio labels show some of the many variations of Artist name, printer name, upper and lower case, colour, skin, dress, hat and flowers.

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Jesús María Bollo García (Spain)

Exhibit : From error to deception

In 1955 there was a joint military base of the American-Spanish army in Torrejón de Ardoz, a town near Madrid. For senior military officials, the American army rented or bought (I don’t know exactly which) a hotel that was located very close to the house where I lived – the Hotel Balboa.

American Bookmatch for Hotel Balboa
American Bookmatch for Hotel Balboa


I had to walk past this hotel every day on my way to the Institute where I was studying, and I started noticing and then collecting the matchboxes that the soldiers threw down on the ground when they had used all the matches. These boxes came from the supermarket inside the base which sold only American products.

Some Diamond Match Company bookmatches
Some Diamond Match Company bookmatches


This is how I started to acquire the wonderful series of “Circus Day”, “Homes of Great Americans”, “The Old West”, “American Folklore” and other examples from Diamond Match Company. Later, I naturally started collecting Spanish labels which became my specialism and passion, but always finding room for a few interesting items from other countries.





My book, Los Fabricantes de Cerillas
My book, Los Fabricantes de Cerillas

In 2018 I published “Los Fabricantes de Cerillas” a 2-volume illustrated book which describes the history of the Spanish Match Industry from 1834 to 1899 based on the archives of the Digital Newspaper Library of the National Library and the Historical Archive of the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office.

At the moment I am preparing a Catalogue of the Manufacturers of Spanish matchboxes, although given the complexity of the subject and the difficulty of finding information about these manufacturers I realise that the Catalogue may never see the light of day.


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