Basic Procedures - Matchcovers come from matchbooks, but almost all collectors carefully strip the matches out and collect the covers. Normally, the only "full-books" (intact matchbooks} collected are those wherein the matches, themselves, have art work on them (called "Features" if the matchsticks have detailed pictures on them, and "Printed Sticks" if the matchsticks just have text on them). The stripped covers are then pressed flat in a variety of ways in preparation for mounting in albums.
Most collectors house their covers in 3-ring binders, with the covers either on specially cut pages in which the covers can be inserted (now rapidly becoming obsolete), or in the current plastic, see-through pages especially designed for the various sizes of matchcovers (see the Supplies page for page dealers).
Things Not To Do - The main rule to keep in mind is not to damage or deface covers in any way. Never cut, glue, or staple covers. Never write on the outside of covers, and, if you do have to make any marks, only use light pencil on the inside. Don't wrap them tightly in rubber banded stacks. Don't store them in damp areas or areas where they will be directly exposed to sunlight for extended periods.
Categories - Covers are collected by categories, of which there are hundreds, and there are more being added all the time--Millennium, web site, e-mail address covers, for instance. There are subject categories (Beer, Military, Holiday Inns, etc.), trademark categories (Cameo, Display, Jewelite, etc.), and manufacturer categories (Crown Match Co. covers, Gem Match Co. covers, Jersey Match Co. covers, etc.). Few collectible hobbies are as flexible as this one in that a collector can find his or her own nitch in matchcover collecting and tailor it to suit his or her own interests and needs. Browse the Categories page to get an idea of which ones exist and which are the most popular with collectors.
Getting Into The Hobby: If your're just collecting by yourself, outside the hobby, you're basically like a piece of flotsam aimlessly floating in the sea. You don't know what's going on, you have no contacts, and, worse, your chances of finding the covers you're looking for are seriously restricted. At the very least, you should become a member of the nearest regional club in your area and the national organization, RMS.
Trading - One of the benefits of joining clubs is access to the membership rosters. With this in hand, you'll be able to pinpoint collectors whose interests in specific types of covers match yours. You'll be able to trade at club meetings, of course, but if you're too far away to attend meetings or simply want to trade more heavily, you'll now be able to contact specific collectors for specific wants. There is also some collector-category information on the RMS web site which will give you contacts.
Traders normally trade on a 1-for-1 basis. Your trader sends you 25 Railroads, for example, because that's what you want, and you send 25 covers in a category that he's working in. Never send struck or damaged covers unless your trader has already indicated he's willing to take them. Never send 'flats', which are basically salesmen's samples and have never held any matches (they have no staple holes and often have not been creased). Also, "Nationals" (covers with no specific business address) are generally unwanted within the hobby, although there are notable exceptions. You and your traders decide on how many covers will be exchanged, which types, and how frequently. Even as you read this, there are hundreds of trades crisis-crossing the country, continent, and the world!