How to display matchbook collection

How to Display a Matchbook Collection

Need to know how to display matchbooks? The great thing about having a matchbook display of a collection is the ability to display them in a completely original ways depending on the collector’s personality and aesthetic. Vintage matchbooks offer so much personality in such a small space. As with any collection there’s a decision to be made: Display the entire collection at once, or display a selection that changes with the seasons, mood, or special occasion. Which one are you?

A Matchbook History

Expanding on our previous post with the history of matches and lighters, it was 1889 when a Philadelphia patent lawyer named Joshua Pusey created the first matchbook with US Patent 483166-A. A major problem with the design is the match striker was inside with the match heads.  The matchbooks we have today were created in Lebanon, Pennsylvania by Charles Bowman. His critical success point was putting the strike pad is on the outside of the package.  Pusey spent a good portion of his time defending his design, and usually won, except when it came to Bowman.  Both men sold their patents to Diamond Match Company in 1896. Diamond Match decided to go with Bowman’s design - which was probably for the best, as Pusey’s design with the strike pad on the inside allowed for people to accidentally light their pockets on fire.

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Binghamton Match Company (New York), incorporated in 1893, and is credited for being the first machine-made Pusey-designed matchbook, drastically reducing the cost. It’s the reason why, in 1895, the Mendelson Opera Company (Austin, Texas) organized by Thomas D. Lowden (1872-1898) decided to advertise their comedy performance in New York without spending much money. Mendelson Opera bought a stack of matchbooks and hand printed/painted/glued advertising for their show.

Mendelson Opera Co of Austin Texas and Thomas Lowden

Diamond Match representative Henry C. Traute took notice, and in 1896 began putting advertisements of businesses on his company’s recently-acquired Bowman-designed matchbooks. Business owners didn’t see the potential at first, but in 1902 Traute finally struck a deal with Pabst Brewery to advertise their Blue Ribbon beer - the first company to invest in branded match books. The first order was for 10 million match books

The next 122 years of history is written on the covers of matchbooks, creating a story of individual points of travel, unique to each traveler. And sometimes those travelers would like to display their journey. That brings us to why you're here.

Incredible lamp, ashtray, lighter combo

Antique lamp ash tray and lighter at Industrial Artifacts

How to Display a Matchbook Collection

Of course there are matchbook display cases, and you could always have matchbooks permanently mounted inside a frame. That's too basic for us. We're here for something more dramatic. Here's some unique ways to display matchbooks for the unique collector.


It's more of a 'cheat' than 'display,' but when working with antiques and ephemera, the less handling, the better. To reduce the risk of damage, Option One is to photograph a matchbook and display the photograph. Enlarging a matchbook covers can be dynamic, showing the details of the printing process, and a quiet nod to Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. Option Two is arranging your matchbooks according to the theme of your choice and photographing the theme. Remember the standard framing sizes. 

Antique Repurposing

Let's try repurposing vintage and antique finds. For example, this point-of-sale display is excellent for displaying matchbooks with a place to keep your collection, with perfect slots to prop up the matchbooks of your moment. Follow this link for more pics.

Point of Sale cabinet to display matchbook collection

When shopping for antiques, you'll come across tool cabinets with glass fronts. This is the perfect solution for both displaying a selection of matchbooks along the glass front of a drawer, and when needed, the drawer pulls out for the rest of the collection divided by your desire. Follow this link for more pics.

Antique Cabinet for displaying matchbook collection

The header of this post is a cabinet for American Thread Co.’s "Star" Threads is a great example of antique industry-specific cabinetry ready to be repurposed. American Thread Company was created in 1898 when English Sewing Company of England purchased the Willimantic Linen Company England mills. Follow this link for more pics. 

American thread antique cabinet to display matchbook

If you've read this far, you probably waiting for something more dramatic.  Have you ever considered a matchbook diorama? More than just displaying matchbooks, turning them into art that will captivated every viewer. 

Matchbook diorama idea for displaying matchbooks
When you're ready to take it to the next level, you can rest assured that Industrial Artifacts has you covered.
Table top glass display for matchbook diorama display

How big do you need? We don't judge, and we'll ship.

antique mercantile display for showing off matchbook dioramas

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