In the Golden Age of the hobby, matchbooks were available everywhere, in large numbers, and they were free! [Doesn't it seem as if you've always just missed the Golden Age of whatever?] Anyhow, businesses had them mounded on their counters, restaurants had them on every table, radio stations gave them out as part of contest promotions, gas station attendants [you probably don't remember what those were] passed them to customers...matchbooks abounded...and they were all there for the taking! ...No more.
Because of all the anti-smoking campaigns, matchbooks aren't so easily available as they once were. You'd think that businesses would retain matchbooks because of their advertising value, but that hasn't turned out to be the case. Today, a collector has to put more effort into finding what he's after. Because of that, buying what you want has become the norm, where once it was the exception. But, buying is certainly not the only option, and for many collectors it's still a supplementary option only.
The most important avenue to acquiring covers is to join the hobby [that sounds like hype, but it's true]. Getting into the hobby, by joining one or more of the clubs, puts you into the collecting network. [see the CLUBS page for a listing and contact information]. It puts you in touch with other collectors with whom you can trade; it opens the door to clubs across the country, swapfests and conventions, and it's certainly the best way to become knowledgeable about what you're collecting and how to go about it.
Club meetings: covers are normally available at club meetings in a variety of ways--freebies, give aways from fellow collectors, auctions, as prizes, etc.
Swapfests and Conventions: Covers by the hundreds of thousands!--freebie tables, room-hopping, game prizes, raffles, drawings, auctions, dealers tables, trades with other collectors.
Bulletin auctions: Many of the hobbby's clubs run an auction along with their monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly bulletins.
On-Line Auctions: There's always ebay, of course, but that's a hassle. As of this writing, there is one on-line auction from within the hobby. That's the Matchcover Vault, right here, offering a weekly auction of 200 lots, and running from Sunday morning to Saturday evening.
Trading: Once you begin to accumulate covers, you invariably end up with some that you don't need (duplicates, covers that aren't in your collecting areas, etc). You can turn this into trading stock and trade with collectors around the country and around the world for covers that you are looking for.
Buying collections: from collectors retiring from the hobby, from estate sales, and so on.
Outside the hobby network, itself, there are other options for obtaining covers:
Have friends and relatives be on the lookout for matchbooks for you. People are always finding batches of matchbooks or covers collected by grandpa or Aunt Martha. If they know someone in particular who wants them, they'll likely find their way to you via your friends and relatives, who will also pick up what they can find in their travels, business dealings, etc.
Run an ad in a local circular advertising to buying accumulations. There are millions of covers languishing in attics, basements, closets...forgotten and unwanted by their owners. All you have to do is coax them out into the open. The more covers that come to light, the more covers that circulate throughout the hobby. Both you and your fellow collectors thus benefit.
And finally, in your own wanderings, you can always hunt down current matchbooks whenever you stop at a store, a motel, etc. There are still new issues to be found, albeit they're few and far netween these days, and most collectors are now no longer willing, or no longer able, to do the intensive footwork necessary to locate them. But they're out there, and they can be found.
It should be noted that in recent years, there has been a major shift to buying covers for many, or even most, collectors as the dependence on trading has fallen off due to 1) the shrinking number of collectors, 2) the lower availablity of new covers, and 3) the continual rise of postage.

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