The first known advertising on matches took place in 1895 by the cast members of the Mendelson Opera Company. One day they purchased 100 blank matchbooks. Members would sit up at night pasting photos and writing ad slogans on the matchbooks. Surviving examples read "A cyclone of fun -- powerful casts -- pretty girls -- handsome wardrobe - get seats early."
From this an industry was formed. Diamond Match built the first factory in Barberton, Ohio. They were producing 150,000 matchbook covers a day. They hired a young aggressive salesman named Henry C. Troute. He started with Pabst Brewery and a sale of 10 million. He then visited famed James B. Duke, the tobacco baron, and persuaded him to buy 30 million. Then he was off to visit William Wrigley, and secured an order of one billion matchbooks, each advertising Wrigley's Chewing Gum.
In 1932, Diamond produced the first set of movie star matchbooks for the American market. The first 10 stars to adorn these match covers included Katherine Hepburn, Slim Summerville, Richard Arden, Ann Harding, Zazu Pitts, Gloria Stuart, Constance Bennett, Irene Dunne, Frances Dee and George Raft. They were such a success Diamond produced match covers featuring hundreds of celebrities from movies, radio and popular nightlife.
Shortly after this success, Diamond went on to produce covers with sports heroes. Football, baseball and hockey players signed releases as their photos and biographies found their way to matchbook covers.
In the 1930's to 1950's matchbook companies employed world famous artists such as George Petty, Alberto Vargas and Ed Moran to draw pictures of women that ended up on matchbook covers. Even Marilyn Monroe lent her shapely form as an early model for matchbook design.
Matchbook cover collecting still ranks as the most popular collecting hobby in America after stamps. Matches are collected to remember a special occasion or a special place. They give the advertiser the opportunity to put something in their customer's hands with their unique mark and information.
"Perfect Match, Endangered by Smoking Banks and Disposable Lighters, Matchbooks Offer a Miniature History of American Advertising", by Bill Retskin, July/August 1997, Cigar Aficionado
Rathkamp Matchcover Society
c/o Mike Prero
12659 Eckard Way
Auburn, CA 95603
Great Lakes Match Club
3702 Sun Terrace
White Bear Lake, MN 55110