Exhibit 2023

Two inspiring artists

Exhibitor : Shakil Huq

Besides being a matchbox collector I am a painter and matchbox designer. My exhibit shows two very different artists who have greatly inspired me.

Vincent van Gogh

There is nothing new to say about the immortal works of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. Vincent is one of the world’s greatest painters. His artwork always inspires me. From that inspiration I designed a total of ten designs. My exhibit is dedicated to this great artist. Thank you.

Iam Tongi

William “Iam” Guy Tongi, born September 1, 2004, is an American singer who won 21 seasons of American Idol. Aimee is the first person from Hawaii, the first Pacific Islander, and the first non-Native singer in three years, to win American Idol. I made this matchbox design not a little but a lot out of emotion.

Just 18 years of age, Iam has a different kind of charm in his songs. Those who have heard him will understand what I mean. Iam’s father passed away very recently and he was the man and inspiration behind Iam’s music. Iam without a doubt one of the few people in the world born with a rare beautiful singing voice.  That is why those who have heard Iam Tongi’s songs and stories shed tears. I couldn’t stop the tears either. I was impressed by the love for his father. No one could hold back the tears when Iam sang James Blunt’s – Monster song for his father. An unprecedented scene!

I am a very simple person. Even if I want to, I can’t do much for my means. This boy, thousands of miles away as my child, truly touched my heart. I wish him much love and good health. Dedicating these matchboxes out of love for Iam Tongi. Some day, I will definitely arrange to convey these messages of my love to him through some means.

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The Swiss Chamois

A chamois

Exhibitor : Stefan Joset

Click here for Swiss German language version


The chamois is the trademark of the match company Diamond SA in Nyon (Switzerland). Later this sign was also adopted by the company Etincelle SA. They were sold under the name “Gemsen-Hölzer (chamois-matches)” between 1938 and 1982.

There are countless different bookmatches with and without advertising which I would like to exhibit here. I hope that you like this splendour of colours and variety and I would like to thank the organizers for the invitation to participate in this wonderful exhibition.

The crossbow was also used more and more often as a symbol of Swiss work. The lettering of the match advertising was always in French and German. The chamois always stood on a rock and looked to the right. In the background it had stylized mountains.

From 1961 onwards, the logo with the chamois was used more and more often in a small, round format. It was not until the beginning of 1967 that the logo changed and the chamois sometimes looked to the left and at times only the half-portrait was visible. The image of the whole chamois on the rock was also presented in an abstract way.

Three bookmatch inside views


In those years, the logo with the chamois could hardly be found on the outside of book matches. 

However, to supplement the self-advertising the chamois was printed on the inside of the bookmatches, below are some examples from my collection.

From 1971, Etincelle only advertised itself on the inside of the bookmatches. In 1982 Etincelle SA ceased production of bookmatches.

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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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The last five matchboxes in Bangladesh

Matchbox (proof) from Dhaka Match Industries (closed) depicting the National Bird of Bangladesh the Doyel

Exhibitor : MD Abid Mallick

Bangladesh has a glorious past of matchboxes. Around 1980, teenage boys in this country used to play with matchbox covers, which are no longer seen. As far as is known, there were about 38 to 45 matchbox factories in Bangladesh. They produced many beautifully designed matchboxes.

However, people started using imported lighters as their prices were low, leading to a gradual decrease in matchbox usage. Presently, the price of matchboxes is relatively low, with a per matchbox cost ranging from $ 0.018 to $ 0.028 USD.

Two remaining match factories

Currently, only two match factories remain in Bangladesh.

One of these factories is Akij Match Factory Limited, established in 1992 at a picturesque site near Muktarpur Ghat on the banks of the River Sitalakshaya. It is a fully automated match factory producing high-quality, 100% carborized safety matches.

Current boxes from the Akij Match Factory

Akij Match Factory currently produces three matchbox brands:

  1. Dolphin (20±3 Sticks, Production Year 2023, 38 x 35 mm)
  2. Firebox (35±3 Sticks, Production Year 2023, 51 x 46 mm)
  3. Lighthouse (35±3 Sticks, Production Year 2023, 51 x 46 mm)



Current boxes from the Abul Khair Match Factory

The other factory is Abul Khair Match Factory Limited, established in 2009 at Charipur, Feni. It is also a fully automated match factory that produces high-quality, 100% carborized safety matches.

Abul Khair Match Factory releases two matchbox brands:

  1. Flame box (35±3 Sticks, Production Year 2023, 51 x 46 mm))
  2. Salmon (20±3 Sticks, Production Year 2023, 38 x 35 mm)


Although many matchbox collectors in Bangladesh have numerous rare matchboxes in their collections, only these two companies offer the five mentioned matchbox brands in the market. No other company is currently producing matchboxes.

Occasionally, cigarette companies or some hotels release promotional matchboxes. These five matchboxes are currently the last ones being produced and marketed in Bangladesh. If these two companies cease matchbox production in the future, no more matchboxes will be available on the market. The matchbox industry in Bangladesh is therefore at significant risk.

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The Harlequin Match (by Bryant & May)

Harlequin Matches

Exhibitor : Rupert Harris

I acquired my first Harlequin box over 40 years ago at the age of 11. In 2008 I examined the Harlequin Collections held by other Phillumenists, undertook research at the Bryant & May Archives in Hackney, London and then in 2008 published the first edition of Harlequin Matches. As more information has come to light two further issues of this book have been produced. The third edition came out in 2021.

Harlequin” is the brightly coloured diamond shape pattern most commonly associated with clown costumes. The distinctive “Harlequin” pattern dates back to the Italian commedia dell’arte, the improvisational stage comedies popular in Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries.

A comic character, called the Harlequin is depicted in this first image, often dressed in brightly coloured diamond-patterned tights, an ornate mask and carried a wand or stick (which became known as the slapstick).

The first Harlequin boxes

In the late 1920’s Bryant & May realised other European Match manufacturers were beginning to successfully sell into the UK market, luxury and decorative match containers.

Some of the first Harlequin boxes

Bryant & May responded in 1927 with the launch of the first Harlequin boxes. The brand was built around colour, both in terms of the multi-coloured match heads and the variation either of the paper coverings of the cardboard boxes, or many decades later the various colours of the plastic containers.

Those early cardboard boxes that have been treasured over the years, that have not suffered the knocks and bruises of life, that have been kept out of sunlight and that still contain their full content of neatly arranged coloured matches, are vividly coloured beautiful works of art.

The box shape is determined from an aerial view. The early shapes were the plain vertically sided ‘round’ – (top right) and ‘hexagon’ (bottom left) shapes. All stood 5.5cms high. The earliest examples had a sandpaper striker on the top, later it was underneath.

Three Stock Boxes

Subsequently Bryant & May marketed Stock Boxes, also 5.5 cm tall, 5.5cm deep and 12.5 cm wide.

They held 600 matches.

These ‘fancy’ boxes were selling well so Bryant & May were keen to increase the Harlequin product range. They then created a wonderful array of different shapes and sizes, including caskets and other elaborate designs.


In their advertising and with good justification, Bryant & May refer to the Harlequin as ‘The Match Deluxe’ as per their advertisement on the front page. The largest boxes were the Caskets. Later small boxes were designed that had a flare half-way up the box. There were also many other shapes and sizes between these smaller boxers and the Caskets.

For smaller boxes there would be a label on the inside of the lid, on larger boxes this label was placed on the bottom. The label displayed “Bryant & May’s – Harlequin Matches, British Made -Royal Appointment details and sometimes also stated the contents, if bound for the US market.

The original casket box


The picture on the right is of the original casket, a vertical sided hexagon with plinth base. A coloured silk ribbon was provided to open the lid and act as the hinge to the base.

‘Lift here’ tabs enabled the user to extract the first few matches that the maker had carefully put in by hand often creating a colourful pattern.

This particular example was exported to the US, the label on the lid inside reads “penitentiary offense to send these through mail”. Measurements 9.8 cm at its widest width, 8.5 cms at its narrowest and again 5.5 cms high.

Classic Casket boxes

It is however the Classic Casket shape of the flare-sided hexagon with the widest flare about halfway up the box which is perhaps the most pleasurable to behold and the crowning glory of the Harlequin Range. It is 8cms tall, 10cms across the widest part of the base and 13cms across the widest part of the flare.

A Classic Casket box

On this near mint example there is a second label in the inside of the lid and translucent tissue paper.

Other casket shapes include: a hexagon with a flare toward the bottom of the box, a caddy, an irregular shaped octagon and the kiosk.

Two casket-type boxes


On the right are two examples where the top of the box is pulled upward to reveal the matches.


You will note the first box shows the colour difference caused by light damage between the outer (greyish) and the lifted inner (clearly blue and gold).




A medium-size box

Medium and small sized boxes

Medium sized boxes are 6.6 cm tall, they came in square, hexagon (shown left), a 5-sided triangle shape (aerial view shown below) and also some had cut outs at the bottom leaving a ‘leg’ design, see below for a hexagon version of this design.

There was also a range of small boxes which have flared sides. The same height (5.5 cm) as the Plain Small shape these boxes have a narrow top and bottom, with a wider flared middle holding the same ‘aerial view’ shape throughout. The lids are shallower than those of the Small Plain boxes. The flare is usually halfway up the box, except for the regular hexagon shape where the flare is nearer to the top.

The pictures below show some medium, small and unusual-sized boxes.

Portable Harlequin Boxes

By May 1928 Bryant & May had made the decision that there was also likely to be a market for a portable harlequin box and they launched the Vanity box, they were marketed to ladies for the handbag.

The boxes are 5 cm high by 5 cm wide by 1cm deep. Typically, they would hold 20 matches of assorted colours. The lid folded over with the rounded part of the lid going into a slot to close the box. The below pictures show an open and a closed box (with the striker being visible on the bottom edge of the closed box). The whole of the outside back, front, top, bottom and sides are the same colour, and numerous patterns and colours exist.

The Dinky Box was launched shortly after the Vanity Box. Bryant & May were trying to widen the appeal of Harlequin, “THE NEW “DINKY” BOX” was “FOR THE POCKET and HANDBAG” and thus both men and women. It came in Blue, Red and Green.

The depicted Dinky box is the more commonly found second product design, patent 402534. Some examples exist of the earlier less successful patent 386577. The same dimensions as the Vanity except for a slightly larger band that runs around the top. When this band is pulled downward the 20 or so multi-coloured match heads are revealed.

A special edition of the Dinky was produced for the Empire Exhibition (Bellahouston Park, Scotland 1938). One side of the box showed the normal gold wording, but the other side depicted the Exhibition Lion in chequered pattern and beneath this “EMPIRE EXHIBITION SCOTLAND 1938” again in gold. Even rarer are the Dinky boxes produced for the Masons. 

1956 relaunch, plastic boxes

A round plastic box

The Harlequin brand was again relaunched by Bryant & May in 1956. This time in plastic not cardboard. They were initially sold for 1/10d each. They were made in two shapes, round and square. There are 8 colour variations for the square shape: Red, Pink, Blue, Green, Cream, Yellow, Salmon & Black and I suspect also for the round shape, but I haven’t seen a cream-coloured circle to confirm this).

Both round and square containers measure 4.9 cm tall and have a slightly narrower base than top. The round container has a 5 cm diameter at the top, the square container has a 4.5 cm edge.

The clear lid has “Bryant & May’s Harlequin Matches” upon it and sometimes also states the number of contents.

Rectangle flip-top plastic boxes

The other often seen plastic shape is the more recent rectangle shaped flip top. This also comes in many colours. It has a clear lid which hinges upward from the front. These were launched in 1969. They were made by Wragby Plastics Ltd of Lincoln and were injection moulded.

All these boxes measure 5.3 cm high, with a base of 7.3 cm by 4 cm and a top that measures 6 cm by 2.8 cm. The original box colours were red, yellow, blue and green. Other colours followed, black, orange, mustard yellow, turquoise blue and mauve.

The boxes of the earlier colours had “Harlequin Matches – Bryant & May” stated on their front, whilst the boxes of the later colours had “Harlequin – Bryant & May” (and not the word ‘Matches’) stated on the front in a slightly different layout. The old “Harlequin Matches” style of writing can be in either white or gold. Only gold examples of the later “Harlequin” only style is known.

On the back of the box, upon the plinth both styles state “Made in England Average Contents 100”.

The striker seems to always be of a light brown colour and is on the bottom of the box in the recess of the plinth base.

Looking back

In the mid 1920’s it was the threat of the German ‘Chintz’ decorative boxes being imported to the UK from Belgium, that stirred Bryant and May into action to create their most successful and popular fancy line ever. Without this threat Bryant and May would not have produced The Original Classic Casket that they appropriately called the “The Match De Luxe”.

Nor would they have gone on to create the rest of the fantastic, colourful artistic wonder of the Harlequin Brand. A brand which has given pleasure to so many people over the years, originally to the consumer and now to the collector.

For further information or if you would like to buy a copy of the Harlequin Matches book, please contact me via my BMLBS membership listing details.

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The Eight Immortals of Henry Waugh & Co

Henry Waugh & Co matchbox label from 1950s (148 X 194 mm)

Exhibitor : Badrul Hisham Jaafar

This unique Henry Waugh & Co Ltd’s advertisement match label featuring the eight immortals has been known as a match label of the 1950s period and regarded as one of the most beautiful yet elusive labels from this part of the world. It is one of my personal favourites and treasured collection which took me many years to secure. Luck must have played a big part for me in getting this label. It’s a large colourful match package label despite some frailty at the edges. For the love of Phillumeny, it’s worthy in my humble opinion to share this colourful label with others.

Henry Waugh and his company

Henry Waugh & Co Ltd was a British trading house and sole agent that imported consumer goods ranging from cigarettes to canned soup in early 1900s until 1950s to the region (Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand). The company was incorporated in Singapore on 14 December 1901 with its registered address at 204, Cantonment Road while it was incorporated in Malaysia (then Malaya) on 31 July 1904. The founder, Mr. Henry Waugh was a resident of Penang for many years and was a famous businessman in Malaya.

Some Katz Brothers labels, early 1900s

Henry came to Malaya in 1897 and became a Director of Katz Brothers & Co in Penang which was also involved in match trading. Henry subsequently acquired Katz Brothers & Co in 1928 to be part of Henry Waugh & Co. He was said to be involved in many other businesses in Malaya ranging from owning several tin mines in Taiping, Perak and Selangor as well as rubber estates in Kedah.

Henry passed away on 6 March 1934 at Standon Court, Tunbridge Wells, England at the age of 58 (source: The Straits Times, 8 March 1934).

The thriving business of Henry Waugh & Co was eventually acquired by the far east conglomerate Jardine Matheson & Co Ltd in 1954.

Henry Waugh (Malaya) Ltd shop as it currently stands at the heritage zone (in the UNESCO world heritage site) at Bandar Hilir, Melaka, Malaysia

The Eight Immortals

The beautiful advertisement match label of Henry Waugh & Co depicting a Chinese painting of the legendary Eight Immortals enjoying a game of “mahjong” together with two servants. Two red-crowned crane birds are seen at the left bottom of the picture with picturesque background of highland cliffs, trees and large houses or palaces.  The company’s business city branches: Bangkok, Singapore, Penang, Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur are stated at each side and at the base of the label. A similar advertisement label is also available in the collection of the National Museum of Singapore. (source: roots.sg)

The 8 immortals are said to have supernatural powers. They are: 

  1. He Xiangu, the only woman in the group who normally carries a lotus flower
  2. Cao Guojiu, a royal uncle (emperor) who holds a jade tablet
  3. Li Tieguai, a beggar (a bit unsound mind) with an iron crutch and a gourd
  4. Lan Caihe, a young musician with a bamboo basket
  5. Lu Dongbin, a scholar, a poet, and a swordsman with a magic sword
  6. Han Xiangzi, a philosopher and a flutist with a jade flute
  7. Zhang Guolao, an elder knowledgeable master with a paper donkey and a drum (associated with symbol of longevity) 
  8. Zhongli Quan, a general with a fan and a peach

Try to spot them all in the advertisement label if you can.

In Chinese mythology, the Eight Immortals are considered to be signs of prosperity and longevity; hence, it’s fitting to be displayed and shared herein. May BML&BS (our match label club society) and all its members prosper and live long as well. Cheers.

References & resources: 

  1. Roots.sg
  2. SGP business
  3. Experian
  4. History of Jardine Matheson & Co
  5. Katz Street
  6. 711collectionstore

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The enduring Umakubi (Horse Head) brand

1) Product of Kita-Kou and Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership, registered in 1889 (55 x 35 mm)

Exhibitor : Takeshi Yokomizo

Click here for Japanese language version


It has been a while since a box of matches had a role as an essential item of our everyday life. But in Japan, we still see it alongside candles and incense on the household-goods shelves in supermarkets. It sits there because the main occasion for us using matches nowadays is to light incense – for family altars at home, or when visiting ancestors’ graves. In general, a box of matches is kept unused at home as an emergency item, but during the summer when kids play with fireworks in the evening, adults need to accompany them and a box of matches is often in their hands.

The sales of matches dropped significantly but there are still 12 manufacturers in Japan, and about 45 different brands are in circulation today. Each brand-label was very much loved by the manufacturer’s local customers, and the label design has been handed down throughout the ages. The example here is the label design of the “Umakubi (Horse Head) Brand” which has been almost unchanged for 130 years. It still is a very familiar and known brand throughout the country.

Tracing the design transition

“Umakubi (Horse Head) Brand” has been taken over by many manufacturers over the years, and when the hand-over happened, it required a renewal of the label.  Even though the overall design was maintained, the name of the manufacturer had to be amended. The woodblock was hand-carved by an engraver so that the expression of the horse’s face was altered slightly each time of the renewal. In the past, the original wood-engraving was replicated by electroplating many times and printed by letterpress. Today, the label is printed by offset printing on card-paper using skillet box packaging technique. It allows the same printing plate to be used repeatedly with a simple name replacement.

Notes on the designs :

  1. 3) The design was registered in 1904 by Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership

    Product of Kita-Kou and Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership. The design was registered in 1889. Originally, Mr. Nobumatsu Kita owned the trademark then he passed its rights to Mr. Benzo Takigawa of Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership founded in 1901.

  2. Co-produced by Ewa-Yokou and Chinese company Bakushoho.
  3. The design was registered in 1904 by Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership. Colouring Limited Registration was filed in 1910.
  4. Export label made by Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership. The word “Lucky” was featured on the label as horseshoes symbolised good luck in Europe.
  5. Product of Toyo Match Co. Ltd. Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership merged with another company and founded Toyo Match Co. Ltd in 1917, and continued to produce “Umakubi (Horse Head) Brand”.
  6. Product of Daido Match Co. Ltd. Toyo Match Co. Ltd merged with several other companies in 1928 and founded Daido Match Co. Ltd. due to the inflow of Swedish capital.
  7. Product of Nissan Norin Co. Ltd. Swedish capital pulled back in 1932 due to the impact of the Great Depression. Daido Match Co. Ltd was taken over by Nissan Norin Co. Ltd.
  8. Product of Nitto Co. Ltd. Nissan Norin Co. Ltd ended the match manufacturing and handed over their brands to Nitto Co. Ltd in 2016. Currently, the company uses skillet box packaging technique for manufacturing their products.
  9. “Souma Teitetsu (Pair of horses and horseshoe) Brand” was a version of “Umakubi (Horse Head) Brand”. Product of Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership. The design was registered in 1911. This brand was in circulation until Nissan Norin’s take over.
  10. “Teitetsu Abumi (Horseshoe and Stirrup) Brand” was another version. The design was registered by Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership in 1906. It is unknown whether this brand was actually launched.

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Swedish favourites

Vulcan Match Factory, box and packet labels

Exhibitor : Al-Razee Anonnya

For this third international virtual Matchboxes and Labels Exhibition organised by BML&BS, I am exhibiting some of my favourite Swedish matchbox labels.

Sweden is the country to register some pioneering contribution in the development of safety matches back in 19th century. Swedish factories produced a great many matchboxes with beautiful, colourful and amazing miniature artworks over the years. Artworks on Swedish labels are really beautiful and mesmerizing which depict history, culture, architecture, myth and many different aspects of life in an interesting way.

I love the beautiful artworks of Swedish labels which have always worked as a stimulation for me to strive for deep study and research on the history of matchboxes, and to learn more. Therefore I love to collect Swedish labels and display some of the beautiful labels from my collection in international exhibitions.

Click on an image in the gallery below to enlarge it and see some of my favourite labels.

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Some Japanese favourites

Seven old Japanese packet and box labels (100×63, 55×33, 86×62, 54×34, 55×34, 99×63 and 54×34 mm)

Exhibitor : Chris Hime

I was attracted to these old Japanese labels by the numerous subjects depicted on them. The intricate detail on some for a mere matchbox label, is interesting with the multitude of colours used and the many fine lines used in the print.     

My knowledge is limited as I do not have any written material and have relied on any information obtained from collections purchased. Labels like these and those made in Sweden from this era (pre 1939 as I am told) are made to appeal as well as serve a purpose.       

This is a very small selection of what I have recently put in albums. I always appreciate any information I am provided. Please enjoy.

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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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Pillbox tops found on the Australian market

Australian pill boxes, early 20th century (32 x 25 mm)

Exhibitor : David Figg

Little circular labels affixed to the top of round plaid cylinders that housed wax vesta matches (and usually had a sandpaper coated bottom striking surface), became known as Pillboxes.

Wax vesta matches also came in tins plus some matchboxes but this exhibit deals exclusively with the pillbox labels.

Manufacture of wax vestas in pillbox containers were produced by a number of companies in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium and Italy as well as a number of factories in Victoria, Australia plus two others in New Zealand.

Interestingly, they were predominantly destined for the Australian market and to a much lesser extent the New Zealand market. Wax vesta matches were at the time in high demand compared to wooden safety matches.

Empty pillbox containers have been found containing small seashells and coins. It is reputed that the wealthy kept gold sovereigns in them and miners, their small gold nuggets.

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Norm – everyone’s favourite couch potato

Norm, illustration by Alex Stitt

Exhibitor : Jerry Bell

In 1975, the Victorian State Government in Australia was concerned at the increasing levels of obesity in the state. It resolved to encourage people to get out and exercise. Accordingly, they commissioned an advertising agency, Monahan Dayman and Adams to develop a suitable programme. In turn, MDA approached an artist, the late Alexander Stitt (1937-2016), to design an appropriate character. The result was Norm, a couch potato, who used to spend his days in front of the telly with a can of beer in his hand, probably watching sport. 

A great many Victorians could identify with Norm. Adverts were created showing Norm participating in various forms of exercise. Being a Victorian company, Bryant & May were approached to issue a set in support of this initiative, and the result was a set of eight labels, size 33 x 49mm, issued in 1976, showing Norm and his family engaged in meaningful outdoor exercise.

Greenlites were a unique invention of Bryant & May Melbourne in 1956 to deal with the problem of getting safety matches to strike properly in damp and humid climates, which applied to most of northern Australia. They were only made in the Melbourne factory, and in Papua New Guinea. The match heads were always green. They were widely exported and were used by the US Army in Vietnam. E2994 is an excise mark to indicate that the matches were made at the Bryant & May factory in Melbourne. Unique excise marks were a feature of Australian labels from 1932 onwards.

As a result, Norm became such an iconic character that the federal Government took it over from the Victorian Government and ran a series of TV commercials and print advertisements for the next 19 years. Sadly, no more labels were issued. 

Was it successful? Certainly, Norm became a household word, but did the message get through? Australia has an abundance of good food, good beer, and good sport to watch, and obesity is still a national problem, so the outcome was, at best, marginal!

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Match related postcards and envelopes

Early 20th century match related post card (140 x 90 mm)

Exhibitor : Fernán Pacheco

Referring to match-related collectables, the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Matches (Barry T. Sturman, K. L. Kosanke, B. J. Kosanke and Robert M. Winokur. 2020 Internet Edition), indicates that “over the years, the hobby expanded to include collections of matchbook covers and practically anything else related to matches”, including ephemera such as advertisements, brochures and letterheads, but also match related postcards.

As a stamp collector but also as a philumenist, I have been drawn to those small spaces where both hobbies coincide, such as the one of match tax stamps. This exhibit is a sample of another one of these coincidences: the one of postcards and envelopes. This field of collecting can also be divided into subcategories such as commercial covers from manufacturers, humorous postcards, artistic postcards, postcards showing match factories, etc. Let’s take a walk through this field of collecting. 

Commercial envelopes from manufacturers

Two envelopes with the manufacturers’ letterheads are shown. The first from the Indian factory St. Josephs Match Factory Kalugumalai. The back of the envelope has the stamps put into circulation in 1957, which show the map of India.

The second one is postmarked October 4, 1938, and it is from the Fábrica de Fósforos La Comercial, which was a Cuban factory located at Falgueras 1, Cerro, Havana, Cuba. One of the colourful boxes manufactured by this company is also shown.

Postcards showing match factories

A label from Ohio Match Co.

Some match factories, due to their size and importance, were real tourist attractions in some communities, and for this reason they can be found in quite a few postcards. One of them was the Ohio Match Co.(nowadays the Wadsworth Warehouse) which was established in 1895 and was the second oldest operating match manufacturer in the United States.  Located in Wadsworth, Ohio, its plant was the largest in the world, producing more than 300 million wooden and paper matches each day. The facility covered 18 acres and had a train line running through the factory as shown on one of the cards. Some of its most famous trademarks include: Junior, Rosebud, Chief, Armadillo, Ohio Noiseless, Ohio Safety Matches, Ohio Blue Tip, Fife and Drum, Pilot and Royal Star.

There is still an annual festival called “The Blue Tip Festival” which is a five-day celebration of the local community, that starts with a parade and the lighting of a 20-foot-high blue-tip match, which lights downtown Wadsworth during the festival’s duration and has events such as Running Club’s “Matchstick 4 Mile” Foot Race or the “Blue Tip Idol” singing contest.

Humorous and special celebration postcards

Well known are the cards incorporating a striking surface as part of the pictorial design. They also exist to celebrate special occasions such as Valentine’s Day, often making puns with the word match. These types of cards are usually very creative. For example, the one with the cat holding a box of “Luckistrikes” has a fold-out strip with twelve photographs of Bridlington main attractions such as the Floral Clock, the Spa, the Royal Princess Parade, the Harbor, the Victoria Terraces, etc.  This one has a one penny stamp postmarked 1929, issued in commemoration of the Congress of the Universal Postal Union held in London in that year.

Artistic postcards

Another subcategory is made up of cards with artistic elements such as the one that contains an old photograph of a match seller with the caption at the bottom that says: “Pipe Lights, Penny a Box”.  The second is that of a modern artist that draws his own matchbox designs and sells them online.

Promotional or advertising

Finally, there are envelopes with designs called to promote the sales of certain brands of matches, in this case, the Three Stars brand, cover postmarked April 10, 1928.

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Indian Forest Memoirs

Indian Forest Memoirs by R S Troup, 1910

Exhibitor : Simon Backman

In 1910, R.S. Troup F.C.H, Imperial Forest Economist to the Government of India authored a book “The Indian Forest Memoirs”. It was subtitled “The Prospects of the Match Industry in the Indian Empire with Particulars of Proposed Match-Factory Sites and Woods suitable for Match Manufacture”. 

For phillumenists interested in Indian match manufacturing this is a seminal work as it gives detail on the match industry during the early years of the twentieth century.

Below are some passages extracted from it together with some rare labels from my own collection.

Match factories operating in India in 1910

“Match factories have been established in India from time to time for several years past but have in some cases met with little or no success, owing chiefly to the wrong selection of sites and to the lack of expert advice. A few factories are now at work; some of them are doing well. Among these may be mentioned :

  1. Labels from the Berar, Oriental and Bande Mataram factories

    Gujarat Islam Match Manufacturing Co. Ltd, Ahmedabad

  2. Bombay Manufacturing Co. Ltd, Bombay
  3. Amrit Factory, Kotah, Bilaspur
  4. Berar Manufacturing Co. Ltd, Ellichpur, Berar
  5. Ranbir Manufacturing Co. Ltd, Jammu
  6. Oriental Manufacturing Co. Ltd, Calcutta
  7. Bande Mataram Match Factory, Calcutta.
  8. Belgaum Manufacturing Co. Ltd, Belgaum


“The Ellichpur Factory in Berar produces 200 gross of filled boxes per diem, and it is proposed to raise this to 300 gross.  There are a few small factories which hardly deserve the name. Most of these make pyrotechnic matches by hand obtaining matchsticks from Japan and tipping them locally, or even buying Japanese matches, breaking off the heads, and tipping the sticks with pyrotechnic compound for firework displays. The total output of these small factories does not average more than about 300 gross filled boxes per diem.”


Labels from the Amrit Match Factory


“I had the opportunity of visiting the Amrit Match Factory, Kotah (Kargi Road Railway Station), in the Bilaspur District, in January 1908. The factory employs about 400 hands. The average outturn in 1907 was 600 gross of boxes per diem but at the time of my visit only 500 gross per diem were being turned out…Supplies of wood are obtained from the surrounding Zemindari and Government forests from a distance of anything up to 40 miles partly by carting and partly by rail. The supply of wood, however, is inadequate, and splints are to some extent imported from Sweden, tipped with composition at Kotah, and packed in boxes made from local woods. The factory produces only sulphur matches”


Labels from the Gujrat Islam Factory


“I had an opportunity of visiting the Gujrat Islam Match Factory at Ahmedabad in October 1907. The business was started in 1895 and the factory commenced work in 1897. The concern was at first worked at a loss, this being largely due to faulty expert advice. Recently the services of a better expert have been obtained and things are more flourishing. Some 300 hands are employed, and 600 to 800 gross of boxes of matches are turned out per diem. The matches manufactured are safety, sulphur, and pyrotechnic matches.”



Labels from the Bombay Match Factory



“I paid a visit to the Bombay Match Factory in October 1907. This factory situated in the New Sewri Road, is a small one, turning out about 250 gross of boxes per diem, but with more capital it is capable of expansion, as the manager informed me that supply cannot keep pace with demand, and that he could produce every match he produced. At this factory safety and pyrotechnic matches are made, there being no sale for sulphur matches. There is a large demand for pyrotechnic matches in connection with the Bombay New Year Celebrations in the beginning of November.”



The Indian Forest Memoirs, by R.S. Troup, Economic Products Series Vol II Part 1, Superintendent Government Printing, Calcutta, 1910.

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How the humble matchbox shaped my life

Bear, Gagarin, Coswig labels from DDR (35 x 50 mm)

Exhibitor : Ian Macilwain

Between the ages of 14 and 17 I started to exchange labels with collectors in Eastern Europe. For these three years regular packets of labels went to East Germany (DDR), Poland and Czechoslovakia as it was then.

It wasn’t only the labels which were exchanged but I picked up a sense of the lives of these people from the post cards and letters which they sent with their labels. From being a distant place hidden behind an impenetrable wall, it became more familiar, and spiked a curiosity about their lives which has stayed with me throughout my life.

Through my family, I had already cemented a bond with a Yugoslavian family we had met on our holidays. By the time I reached my twenties studying medicine in Aberdeen, I availed myself of an opportunity to visit Russia and Ukraine with a group of medical students, and embarked on a quest to visit Romania on a Honda 50 scooter (this trip, in 1970, is documented in my book “When I was 19 I won a Honda 50 and went to Transylvania” ). These trips would not have happened without the labels and my exchange contacts.

800 Jahre Stadt Leipzig (35 x 50 mm)

Exchanging labels with DDR

My first and most longstanding contact was with a gymnast called Peter Forster who lived in the town of Zittau on the extreme south east corner of the DDR, just a few Km from Poland and Czechoslovakia.

He sent me hundreds of labels, often in used condition, as that’s what I wanted, while I sent him sets of Brymay flowers and tartans plus other current sets from outside his orbit, like those from the Cornish Match Company.

He didn’t tell me a lot about his life but the labels spoke volumes – a picture is worth a thousand words.

Blood transfusion (35 x 50 mm)

I had a sense of the torrent of propaganda to which he was exposed, some of which was explicitly political but more often concerned health and safety.

The relationship with the Soviet Union figured frequently, as did current preoccupations, like the war in Vietnam.

There were two match factories in the DDR – Riesa and Coswig. All the pictured labels come from Riesa except the Berlin bear, the 775 anniversary of Coswig and the two Vietnam solidarity labels.

In 1993 I took the opportunity to visit his country but regrettably had not maintained a contact with him in the interval. Visiting Erfurt, Leipzig, Wittenberg and Halle proved utterly fascinating. To see a country which until four years earlier had been trapped in a timewarp, but was now like a vast building site, being rebuilt with West German money. We camped outside Leipzig in a vast campsite with several thousand emplacements. There was still ample evidence of its recent communist past. At one end stood a primitive toilet block like something out of a gulag. At the other end was a brand new fully automatic Swiss built shower block like a symbol of what was to come. The cities like Erfurt and Halle had escaped the architectural vandalism of the 1960’s in the west and were like beautifully preserved museums.

Looking back

I have attempted here to show how many of the important themes in my life stem from my lifelong interest in collecting matchbox labels. It has taken the autobiographical element of the exhibition to make me more aware of how my exchanges of labels with Eastern Europeans helped to develop my subsequent trips and interests as an adult.

Since retirement I have devoted myself to photography and publishing books. I have visited Romania more than 20 times to photograph village brandy making, and to visit the many friends I now have there. You can see more details at Broombank Publishing. This has culminated in my love for Romania and its people, and I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have done any of this without the demystification which matchbox label exchange provided. 

20 years of ND (35 x 50 mm)


To end on a humorous note : Neues Deutschland (ND) was the daily paper in DDR whose sense of humour is apparent!



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Holloway’s Pills and Ointments

Advertising label for Holloway’s Pills and Ointments, Sweden, early 20th century (57 x 35 mm)

Exhibitor : Mike Pryor

In September 1974 my university course started at Royal Holloway College in London, studying Chemistry. Although I had chosen the college due to its excellent reputation and great location, I had no knowledge of the history of the place nor of its founder Thomas Holloway (1800 – 1883).

Thomas Holloway. Photo credit: Thomas Dewell Scott, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Of course I took my matchbox collection with me, and spent many happy hours between lectures soaking off labels. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that I became aware of some lovely labels advertising Pills and Ointments from the very same Thomas Holloway.

A Victorian entrepreneur, philanthropist and master marketeer

Thomas Holloway made a considerable fortune by selling first his Ointments and then his Pills to the Victorian people. His started his business in 1837 and quickly realised that advertising his products was absolutely crucial, and probably much more important than the efficacy of the pills and ointments themselves. His medicines became a Victorian households, and his advertising dominated the newspapers of the day. He also greatly increased his wealth from successful speculations on the stock market. By the time of his death in 1883 he was one of the richest men in Britain and was spending over £50,000 a year on advertising. 

Thomas Holloway was married but had no children and was looking for ways to spend his fortune which would provide benefit to society at large. He left two magnificent buildings as legacies to the nation, which reflected his philanthropic nature :

  • Holloway Sanitorium in Virginia Water, opened in 1873 to provide mental health treatments for the middle-classes
  • Royal Holloway College in Egham, Surrey, opened in 1886 originally as a college for young ladies
Two wooden Swedish boxes, 35 x 59 x 18 mm

Holloway’s Matchboxes

In my collection I have two complete Swedish matchboxes advertising Holloway’s Pills and Ointments using the Little Boy Blue brand which was registered on 27th March 1911. They were clearly commissioned by the company long after Thomas Holloway’s death. However, I am sure that he would have wholeheartedly approved of this marketing approach.

Here are some variants of vertical labels advertising Holloway’s medicines.

Did the Pills and Ointment work ?

Holloway made claims that his Ointment possessed a “healing genius” but a subsequent analysis revealed that it contained only yellow and white beeswax, resin, lanolin and olive oil. Similarly, Holloway stated that his Pills would cure almost anything (skin diseases, general paralysis, venereal disease) although it seems that the Pills would only have had, at best, a mildly laxative effect due to their mixture of aloes, rhubarb root, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, saffron, Glauber’s salt and potassium sulphate. Perhaps we should consider them to be early forms of placebo ?

Here are some more labels claiming the efficacy of the medicines. They are probably back labels but it is unknown what was on the other side of the boxes.

The business was sold to Eno’s in 1930 which was then acquired by Beecham in 1938, who had been Holloway’s main competitors before then. 

I will always be grateful to the education I received at Royal Holloway College, and now have a much better appreciation of the complex, generous man who made it all possible through his creative approach to advertising.

Further Reading

Palaces, Patronage & Pills, by John Elliott, 1996.

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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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French matchbox labels (1830s – 1870s)

1848 cut-panel from Roche & Co (70 x 32 mm)

Exhibitor : Stephane Pinaud

Click here for French language version


The French production in the 19th century is known for very beautiful lithographed boxes and very varied shapes. These pictorial attractions have meant that they have been preserved (completed or cut-panel) and, in fact, we know many of them.


Early manufacturers used much cruder labels and boxes that are much harder to find. What could encourage a person to keep such boxes and labels ? Almost nothing, and I find incredible that such objects have reached us.

So here are some rudimentary labels and boxes from the 1830s to the early 1870s and the establishment of the monopoly. Some manufacturers have chosen to use these boxes and labels until the establishment of the monopoly, probably for cost reasons.

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Festive Icelandic Matchboxes

Four Festive matchboxes, 110 x 65 x 20 mm each
Four Festive matchboxes, 110 x 65 x 20 mm each

Exhibitor : Gísli Jóhann Sigurðsson

I always say I collect matchbox labels, but then there are always some exceptions. I am very fond what are known as “Festive Matchboxes”, which are produced for Christmas here in Iceland.

Of course, you have to collect the complete boxes even though they take up a bit of space, but this part of my collection is growing very slowly. I keep these Festive Matchboxes in protective plastic boxes, and I start to get excited when it comes to the middle of November and I go and open the plastic boxes and look at these treasures, because it’s almost like meeting an old acquaintance again. I spread some of them on the shelves in my apartment and admire them until after Christmas when it is time to put them away again for another year.

The story of the Festive Matchboxes

Festive matchbox showing the wooden matches
Festive matchbox showing the wooden matches

These boxes started appearing the shops here in Iceland quite a few years ago, shortly before Christmas. Each one contains 45 wood matches and features a lovely drawing of a festive decoration on the front and on the back of the box, designed by the Icelandic artist Hekla Björk Guðmundsdóttir.

Side panel of a Festive matchbox
Side panel of a Festive matchbox

On the side of the box it says “matches” in three languages : Icelandic, English and German as well as a warning to keep away from children.

Until I visited Hekla recently I had only 16 of these matchboxes, but she allowed me to complete my collection so I now have 18.

Here are pictures of all my Festive matchboxes, click on an image to enlarge it. The last matchbox is not really a Festive matchbox : it shows a typical Icelandic Lopapeysa / Icelandic sweater.

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Extraordinary Matches

Cigar Lights

Exhibitor : Phil Stringer

Many companies produced “Cigar Lights” on a simple wooden splint. The example on the left in the photo is a Bryant and May light of standard size, with bigger examples, that on the far right would take a brave smoker to hold this while it burned.

Cigar Lights boxes

The need, or a perceived need, to protect against the burning head from dropping off, meant that various ideas were tried, one of the most popular was to incorporate wires along the stem held by cotton braids, the “Braided Cigar Light”.



Another way to ensure the head didn’t drop was a non-combustible stem, Glass, porcelain, Letchford even used bone as a solution. The steel stemmed examples are probably experimental pieces and would likely become too hot to hold.

Three “Motor Match” boxes

The Motor Match, basically four times the size of a regular windproof match, if blown out it would reignite. Sold in card packets of ten or larger tins of fifty, bespoke holders of metal or leather, as shown, were available.

Three Stars Gengas Match


Another match specifically designed for the motorist was the Three Stars Gengas Match. This was used in Sweden during WW2 to ignite the engine of a gas-powered car, developed to assuage petrol shortages.




Merx Fusee boxes

The Merx Fusee was used by the telegraph industry, designed to light a magnesium tablet for a portable soldering iron. The examples in the cylindrical tin had a metal tube with solder inside and a match type composition around the exterior, the two ends of a wire would be pushed into the tube and the outer lit by a supplied match.


Tandare Till Brannflasker


Tandare Till Brannflasker, translates to read as “Molotov Cocktail Match”. Dated to 1943 they were intended for use during WW2, attached to Tandare Till Brannflaskera petrol bomb the ignited match would inflame the contents when broken.


Pellet match boxes

Pellet matches, different means of igniting these were employed, Perry’s lights fitted into a metal device of two tubes either side of a central plunger, this when pushed down would ignite a single pellet. The Jon Wonder held the pellets in a case, a separate tweezer like device would grip a single pellet to be struck like a conventional match. The Continuous Match (facsimile box) worked on a similar principal to the perry with a container that would ignite each head in succession.

Drown & Co Ignition Rods


The Drown and Co Ignition Rod functioned in the same way as a conventional match except it could be blown out and reused until spent.

Center top a Swedish example the others experimental versions.


Candle wax vestas

The candle wax vesta was very similar in size and appearance to a birthday cake candle with a match head composition. The box was designed to hold the match to facilitate the melting of sealing wax.


Some Cigar Caps and Tips

Cigar Caps fitted over the cigar end, the tips were pushed in then the cigar itself struck like a match. The tips shown here are by Pollock and had cloth flowers to decorate the heads. The sharp end of the Dunlop was used to pierce the cigar but not left in as the tips were.



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Döbereiner lighters

Three Döbereiner lighters

Exhibitor : Tom O’Key

After 1910, technology was just becoming standardized. The inventions of the past were becoming bygones and rapidly forgotten. By 1920, established systems were mainframes of the technology that remains relevant and often commonplace in daily use, now. Perhaps it has a special appearance in form, or clever lever and spring mechanism, make it special, but, it is basically the same technology that, has been around for a century, if a sparking flint or paper bookmatch is considered technology. So, little remains with respect to early examples as most were discarded without thought or care.

It’s with great personal gratitude that I give thanks to the great collectors of the past, for saving away the knowledge they’ve gathered together, and documented, so these, otherwise, unknown, technologies could be remembered. After all, ten million Pabst Beer matchbooks were manufactured for the first order, then thirty million more, followed! Yet, only one is known to exist, today. History can be forgotten.

Instantaneous Light

Edward Bidwell, Miller Christy, Herbert Manchester, Walter Hough, Henry Balfour, Warren Watson, Encyclopaedia Roret 1836 -1903, and now, the British Museum and many others, are the historians I have studied and read, and thanks to their example, I found subject matter that has captured my full attention, “Instantaneous Light Contrivances

The Instantaneous Light category of fire making, as described by Miller Christy, and divided away by him, from other systems, is unique in having the common denominator where chemistry, or electricity is involved, somehow. From chemical concoctions with acid bottles and hydrogen gas, to leading edge innovations in producing electricity, these inventors brought their own significance where documentation and footnotes in history happened by changing or discovering science, itself!

Bicentennial poster, July 2023

Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner

Among these innovators was a German Chemist name Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner, who, in 1823, discovered that platinum metal reacted with various flammable gases.

The reaction caused one gas to ignite that was, relatively, easy to make, hydrogen! With a little engineering, a combined unit with a hydrogen gas generating apparatus and a platinum ignition system, a lighter could be created. And, indeed, they were!

Beginning almost immediately, his unpatented innovation swept across Europe and Great Britain. Later, versions were, even, made in Vermont, USA, by settlers from Austria. It goes without saying, that the fact there were tens of thousands of these lighters created, a scant few remaining examples is all that represents the technology, now.

Seven lighters

The inventory of my collection has fluctuated over time, as repetitive examples, where artistic merits, or unusual mechanical features, bring favour when trying to manage a collection of large and fragile objects.

All of my Döbereiner’s are kept in a fireproof vault.


As of now, the collection consists of about twenty examples in all states of condition or repair. Among them are versions from numerous countries and various timeframes. Early German made figural pieces to later French mechanical models, an early French clock, combined with a Döbereiner Alarm Lighter, dating to 1830, is intriguing to me. 

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Cleveland Match Company

An unused Delivery Note, from the Stockton-on-Tees address

Exhibitor : Alan Middleton

The Cleveland Match Company operated as match importers and wholesalers from 1925 to 1935, initially in 29 Marton Road Middlesbrough and then in Boathouse Lane in Stockton-on-Tees. This Exhibit tells the story of the growth and subsequent decline of their business and the three match brands that they imported during their ten years of operation.

The beginning, Thistle brand

Alfred Tomlinson had started a small iron and coal business in Middlesbrough in 1919. He was joined in 1921 by Frank Hall and the business expanded into concrete and scrap metals. Then in 1925 they ventured into match importation and formed a subsidiary called The Cleveland Match Company.

Thistle box and packet labels, 1925 (50 x 30 and 111 x 71 mm)



The first brand they imported was “The Thistle” which came boxed and labelled directly from the Belgian suppliers.

The matches were stored in bonded warehouses, ready for distribution to the retailers by a network of representatives.

These men were paid a commission on the volume of sales made.



Russian matches, Top Score brand

Top Score box label and Thistle packet labels, imports from Russia

During 1927 the company introduced the “Top Score” brand from Russia and applied for the Trade Mark which was granted in 1928. Russian matches were very competitively priced compared to British-made matches, and this led to Cleveland Match switching Thistle to Russian suppliers.

The threat from Russian imports by Cleveland and other match companies was so serious that it prompted a question in Parliament on 5th July 1928. Concerns were expressed that the public were being deceived about the origin of matches, and Thistle was explicitly mentioned as an example of a product that used a British emblem. H M Customs immediately insisted on more explicit labelling on imported matchbox labels, which can be seen on the labels here. 

In the early 1930s the words “Foreign Made” started being used, to conceal the Russian origin. and to overcome the adverse public reaction to Russian goods. Problem solved for the British smoker who didn’t know what he was buying but hard lines on the commercial viability of the British match manufacturers at the time!

Tartan and “Top Score” brands

In 1928 the “Tartan” brand started being imported from Belgium and carried the company’s name (as C M C), The Belgians also supplied a very attractive “Top Score” label which also carried the company name and the Middlesbrough address. But in 1929 the company moved to bigger and better premises in nearby Stockton-on-Tees which meant that the Middlesbrough labels were no longer usable.

Closure in 1935

Cleveland Match never issued ‘own-brand’ advertising labels, unlike their competitors such as the Middlesbrough-based importers S.J.Endean Rowe/Nectar Match Co. The early 1930’s were very hard times, and the depression was at its height. The British Match Corporation had been formed in 1927 and this made it very difficult for independent match merchants to survive.  Finally, after experiencing supply problems with Russia and the cut-throat competition the partners reluctantly decided to run down the match business and concentrate on the fast-developing light engineering side of their business.

Here are a few company letterheads and business documents which serve to illustrate the history of this short-lived much-loved British company.

Cleveland’s parent company Tomlinson Hall & Co. Ltd. continues to trade, and now operates out of Billingham. Tomlinson, Hall & Co. became Tomlinson, Hall & Co. Ltd in 1954 and they have now been in business for over 100 years.

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Beautiful flowers on matchboxes and labels

Indian matchbox labels depicting flowers

Exhibitor : Himel Rozario

I like to collect Matchboxes and Labels which contain pictures of flowers. The main reason for collecting these flower themes is that whenever I see these matchboxes, my heart fills up with joy and happiness.

In this exhibition, I am going to show some Matchboxes and Labels collected from India, Germany and Sweden. In those matchboxes and labels, many countries show pictures of their country’s beautiful flowers and mainly their country’s diversity is exhibited.

Indian Matchbox and Labels display many pictures of Indian flowers such as the Lotus flower. In the same manner, on the Matchbox covers of Sweden are some beautiful pictures of flowers from that country.

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Classic auto assortment on matchbox labels

Exhibitor : Masud Ahmed

Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated with cars. The way they worked always intrigued me.

1976 Toyota Corolla 30 De Luxe. Photo credit: Rutger van der Maar on Visualhunt



Back then, my family owned a Toyota Corolla E31. That car drove like a dream. It never gave us any issues.


We replaced it after more than 20 years with a newer model.



At the time we used to get stickers of cars on magazines. I used to collect a lot of stickers of our corolla and other cars. This slowly turned into a habit which is still going on today. For many years I have been collecting die cast model cars of a wide variety. Other than cars, I also have an extension collection of coins, banknotes, stamps, etc. Among them, matchbox labels is one that I like to collect the most. Recently, I discovered that a ton of matchbox labels have been made on cars. So at the moment that is what I have my eyes out for.

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Attema 75

Attema 75th anniversary presentation box (300 x 190 x 75 mm)

Exhibitor : Mike Tree

The Attema trading company was founded in Amsterdam in 1881 by Mr J W Attema. A business relationship was formed with Swedish match factories who used Attema to sell their products in the Netherlands. One of the first brands which they sold was “The Swallow” which of course is still produced today by Swedish Match.

In 1956 the company decided to celebrate 75 years of trading by issuing two luxury presentation boxes of matchboxes which were given free to their clients. The front of the presentation box carries a painting of Amsterdam by Jan Ekels the Elder (1724-1781).

Each presentation box contained :

  • 2 x 12 standard size boxes depicting regional crests
  • 2 x 12 standard size boxes depicting city crests
  • two household-size boxes
  • ca. 90 large wooden matches 

The household-size boxes had different images on them : the Montelbaan tower in Amsterdam (vertical image) and Water Mills near Breukelen (horizontal image). The standard size boxes had an Attema label on the back.

I really like this presentation box and always enjoy picking it up and looking at the varied contents. It is unusual in the Dutch market, and would have been a lovely gift to receive as a client of Attema. The original company has now ceased trading.

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A. Dellachá Matchboxes

A. Dellachá No.17 matchbox opened out flat – Printer: Lit. Armanino – Genova, Italy

Exhibitor : Alan Downer

I have a collection of older Italian matchboxes and matchbox labels, which includes those of Ambrogio Dellachá (1824-1916). The company was founded in 1860, and produced many fine lithographically produced matchbox designs. The process of lithography uses limestone blocks. The matchboxes usually display the name A. Dellachá.

The company set up by Dellachá operated against a great deal of competition from the other match makers both in Italy and in other countries, such as those established in France. The company prospered and won medals at exhibitions. The majority of the matchboxes in Italy at this time were what collectors refer to as “springflap” matchboxes. These were made in card, in different sizes, they often displayed a “model” number, which is a reference to the grade of both the matches and the size and quality of the matchbox.

Most springflap matchboxes have a natural rubber band that assists in the opening of the matchbox, thus allowing easier access to the matches within the box. The boxes were filled with wax stem matches of the strike-anywhere type, that could be ignited by striking on the sandpaper part of the matchbox, or indeed any rough surface, or wax stem safety matches, which could only be ignited on a special striking surface on the matchbox.

The company also made matches called “Bougie de poche“, which were a little wax stem “candle”, with a match head. These candle matchboxes had a metal socket to hold a single match in the top of the box. The company also made larger sized matchboxes with the name “Camera”. Many of the designs of “Bougie de poche” matchboxes, that held the candle matches, can also be found with a different design of match tray, and without the metal socket. These matchboxes would then hold the wax stem matches; “vestas” as they are often called.

The Dellachá company operated in Moncalieri (near Torino, in the region of Piedmont in Northwest Italy) and in Milan. Details on the internet suggest that the matches were initially made in other locations, but none of the matchboxes I have seen give the location other than Moncalieri or Milan. Most of the matches were sold in Italy and they were also exported to Argentina. After the Argentine government imposed much larger taxes on imported matches in 1882, he employed his brother, Stefano, who was already living in Argentina to establish a match factory at Buenos Aires to get around the problem. Dellachá joined the Fabbriche Riunite di Fiammifer (FRdF) (United match factories) when it was founded in 1892.

In Italy in 1916 the government of Italy also imposed large taxes on the matches and the problem was so great that the matchboxes had to be made much cheaper. The quality of the matchbox graphics and materials used suffered considerably. Dellachá also exported to Portugal, Spain and America.

Displayed here are some of the Dellachá springflap boxes that form part of my collection.

I do not know when the company ceased to exist in Italy or in Argentina, or much more about the company. If you have any information that might help my researches about the family, such as when, Stefano was born and died, or about the company it would be most welcome.

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