Homefront Digest
    Vol. 1 No. 7
    December 2001, January 2002

    Welcome to another edition of ww2homefront.com's Homefront Digest. This month I wanted to introduce collectors, scholars and veterans to the pleasures of collecting and studying matchbooks and matchboxes from the era. Recall back in the 1940's that smoking was widespread. The dangers of smoking were not well recognized as they are today and smoking was a truly cosmopolitan phenomenon. If you didnt smoke you werent "in" and tobacco companies exploited this. Smoking was advertised in newspapers, theatre trailers, subways, rapid transit systems, airports, bars etc and was advertised by Hollywood celebrities and sports stars. Examples included Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Joe Dimaggio and Betty Grable all of whom advertised for the various tobacco companies. By creating this image of success, fame and beauty many people began and continued to smoke.


    All smokers required certain accessories. These included ashtrays, cigarette boxes, lighters, matches etc. Lighters were available but were expensive and not commonplace. Matches were the primary tool that smokers employed. Matches were distributed in boxes and in books. Books were much more common and have survived better than boxes to date. Boxes were harder to carry and were often crushed and mutilated in doing so. Thus finding surviving WWII matchboxes is uncommon indeed. Matchbooks however have survived well and are readily available.
    It is not hard to find mint unstruck books.

    Because matchbooks were so widespread they were a natural choice as a vehicle to advertise. The government found that not only were they a great form of advertising, they were an outstanding means of disseminating propaganda. They were carried everywhere, and used in all sorts of situations. Imagine the constant impact on morale of a person lifting a matchbook with a large red, white, and blue V to his face to light a cigarette.

    The anatomy of a matchbook consists of a single piece of cardboard with three folds. The final fold was stapled through a striker to form the front of the matchbook. Thus the front cover slipped underneath the front striker. The other folds formed the rear cover and spine. Finally there was the interior surface which was behind the matches and on the reverse of the front cover. In the early 1970's front strikers were eliminated because of safety concerns. Apparently there were accidents that involved ignition of the entire matchbook resulting from the close proximity of striker to the matches themselves. Thus all matchbooks must have a rear striker these days.


    As a business, if you wanted to purchase matchbooks you could visit a showroom, order from a catalog, or have a salesman visit you. You needed to make several decisions at that time. First was how many matches you wanted in your book. Larger matchbooks cost more. Matchbooks from the period were available in 10 strike, 20 strike 30 strike and 40 strike. Once you had decided what matchbook size, you could choose what art you wanted in the 4 cardinal positions on the matchbook; front, rear, spine and interior. You could supply your own art or you could choose from a list of standard designs. Each time you selected a non-standard design the unit price increased. Thus WWII matches are found fairly standard in the cardinal designs. Nonetheless there are variants as a result of some vendors willing to spend more to have a particular design. Hence certain combinations of designs are VERY common whereas other variants are uncommon.


    There were other options available to a customer. These features were the marquis features and today are among the most sought after of all. These options greatly increased the unit cost and included figural covers which were diecut into unusual shapes as opposed to the usual square or rectangular covers. Also there were featured matches which were printed and could be figural as well. Finally you could get special strikers called spot strikers. Instead of the striker stapled to the bottom of the book, the striker could be in an unusual shape designed to blend in with the artwork on the cover. In general, feature matchbooks with spot strikers are the most expensive and sought after of the matchbooks. This is because they display well and were quite uncommon. The two best examples of these are the Remember Pearl Harbor and hitler matchbooks. The RPH book has matches shaped and printed like japanese soldiers. Striking the match burns the jap from the head down. The hitler matchbook features a spot striker on hitler's rear. Each match is a figural printed bomb. You strike the bomb right on hitlers rear. These are truly two of the marquis homefront matchbooks.


    The 40 strike matchbooks had an unsual feature in the interior. They had the markings of a postcard so that once the matchbook was all used up, the staples (2) could be removed, a stamp applied and sent through the mail. The 40 strikes most commonly featured the names of bases where soldiers were stationed and so could be used to send greetings to folks on the homefront. 10 strikes were quite small and although were quite inexpensive for the vendor, were not widely used. I have seen just a select few 10 strikes. They are very uncommon. The 30 strikes were used in Canada and some darling designs can be found. By far the most common matchbook was the 20 strike. Most commonly art adorned the 3 cardinal positions with the interior left blank. If the interior had a design it was almost exclusively in black ink. The spine usually had art but not always. The front and rear cover usually had unique art but sometimes the same design was featured on both.


    Just as in any homefront group of collectibles, the matchbooks fall into the keystone areas. They are Remember Pearl Harbor, V For Victory, Production, Financing The War, Anti-Axis, Keep 'Em Flying, Minuteman etc. Many of the matchbooks had several themes on a single book. After studying the availability for awhile, it is obvious that there were about 10 or 20 designs that must have been distributed coast to coast as they are so common. They certainly were produced in tremendous numbers and today it is possible to find unopened cases of these designs.


    Collecting homefront matchbooks is difficult for several reasons. First they are not inexpensive with mint unstruck books fetching 7.00-15.00 each up to a staggering 100.00 for the features. When the item arrives in the mail or you return from the flea market or antique show, it doesnt feel like you have really got a significant addition to your collection because they are so small in light of their cost. So in a way they can be very discouraging to collect. How I have overcome this is by buying in larger lots. They dont come up to often but when they do I grab them. Then when they arrive it feels like you've made some headway.


    The next reason collecting matchbooks is difficult is because a tough decision has to be made. Do you shuck the matches out and display them flat or do you leave them intact. There are pros and cons to both. By shucking the matches out you eliminate fire hazard which can sizzle your entire homefront collection. Second, you can display the books flat so that the 3 cardinal art surfaces can be displayed. There are special binder pages made to facilitate their display. Finally, they are less likely to be damaged lying flat.

    Why then do the "purists" leave the matches intact? Well, I guess the answer is exactly that. They are purists and believe that by altering the original configuration, these historical artifacts are compromised. I have both but I prefer displaying whole books. I try display the best art surface and for neatness I keep striker sides together. All front surfaces with the striker are displayed together. In a separate display I have all rear surfaces.


    How to display the whole books? I use wooden collectors cases that I buy by mail out of Ohio. This gentleman's contact info is: Steele's Display Cases 5665 St. Rt. 605, Westerville, OH 43082. His phone number is 1-800-589-2944. Tell him I sent ya. They are available in all sizes. The largest size holds 104 full 20 strike matchbooks perfectly. These cases are lockable and by nailing a frame sawtooth on the back they are hangable. They display like a champ. I think this is the safest way I have found to display the full books. If the full books are displayed loose as in a glass receptacle, I place each in its own ziplock crack bag so that neighbors dont suddenly decide to have a BBQ while someone is pawing through them. So the decision to shuck or not shuck is a personal one. I personally don't do it. I'll buy covers but not create covers.

    One important note for collectors. Matchbooks that have there strikers removed are called bobtails. These are damaged goods and are worth next to nothing. Some rocket scientists decided that storing full and partial matchbooks together was too risky so rather than isolate each book, they pulled the strikers off. Be sure you know what you are buying. ALWAYS ask what percent of the lot are bobtails. They should be thrown in for free in any sizeable deal. Some clever folks are buying up all the bobtails and using them in art projects and selling the projects for good amounts.

    So where do you find these elusive WWII homefront matchbooks? Where else? EBAY. Online auctions are an excellent source for them. The mother of all sources is the annual match collector's show. It is usually back east but often comes to Los Angeles or San Francisco. The hard core collectors all attend this show and if you want to build the monster match collection fast, that's how to do it. You can find the info by searching the net or contacting one of the big ebay vendors like Table4two or matchguy. Once you find them, how do you know their value? There are a few match collector priceguides out but their coverage of homefront matchbooks is thin. The bound homefront priceguide is beyond weak. Believe it or not the most extensive source will be our online priceguide coming soon to ww2homefront.com. We have listed each cardinal surface in military style nomenclature as we have found that is the only way to identify variants. So look for our online priceguide as the definitive source for pics, descriptions and prices of the wide and wonderful world of homefront matchbooks and boxes.

    Thanks once again for coming to the Homefront Digest. Until next time stay safe, stay alert and have a great holiday from myself and the staff at ww2homefront.com.

    Remember Pearl Harbor and Remember 911!!!!

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