[Technically, the hobby really
started in Japan, in 1905, when the first label clubs appeared
(and labels were all there was at that point). However, I'm going
to focus on the domestic story here.]
There really was a hobby before RMSs
1941 inception. Its history is murky, but its there. It
has its roots in matchbox label collecting in the 1800s. At that
point, thats all phillumenists had available to collect.
That was going to change, though, with Joshua Pusey's invention
of the matchbook in the early 1890s [although
it should be noted that there is some controversy over whether
or not Pusey's invention was actually the first]. In any event, that's the patent
that Diamond Match Co. purchased, and that's what
started off matchbook production.
In 1896, we have the famous handwritten
Mendelson Opera Company matchbooks...but matchbooks still werent collectible
because they were all blanks (unless someone wrote on them).
Diamond purchased the rights to Pusey's matchbook in 1894, but
the Binghamton Match Company of New York had already taken Pusey's
matchbook and produced the Piso
matchbook by then [pictured on the
opening page], and this one had commercially printed advertising
on it. Now, the ball was rolling! Still, matchbooks werent
common, werent varied, and werent widely available;
ergo, collectors interest still hadnt been aroused
yet. The real turning point had to be 1902...thats when
the first huge order came in for matchbooks with printed advertisements
on themPabst Beer ordered 10 million!
Now we have just about all the ingredients needed for the hobby....just
add a few years for the idea to take hold, covers to begin to
become more common, and voila!...We have matchcover collectors
in evidence by at least 1918. (The late Evelyn Hovious is an
example. She started collecting while serving soldiers at a local
Red Cross during W W I). Add in another decade or so for collectors
to realize that they were not individual oddities and that there
were others with the same interests, and you have early clubs
appearing in the 1930s. Also, faked labels had become such a
problem in the 1930s that many American label collectors simply
gave up on their label collections and turned to cover collecting
Here in the United States, M. A. Richardson organized the earliest
club that I know of, the Blue Moon Match Label Club, in 1934.
By the mid-1930s, things were well under way. Ernest Damron started
the United Match Label Collectors Club in 1936 and changed the
name to United Matchonians in 1938. Also in 1936, The Match Folder
Collectors' Alliance put out the Match Folder News. There were
even clubs outside the U.S. For example, the Guiana Hobby Club
was situated in British Guiana, and South Africa had the African
Collectors Exchange. Of course, this shouldnt be
surprising since label collecting was already much more established
And, just as our bulletins tie the hobby together today, there
were a variety of earlier matchcover publications circulating
in the 1930s. Ray Yeinst, Harrisburg, PA, issued Matchlabels.
The Mariners Match Label Club published the Anchor Match Label
Log. Joan Carter, Rochester, NY, published the National
Hobby Bulletin. Clarke Cameron put out the American Matchcover
Collector. Match Lights (1936-1941) was put out by
Jess Heuzell from Kansas City; Match Pack Notes (1936-1940)
was available out of San Francisco; The United (1936-1951)
was the United Matchonian newsletter; Match Folder News/The
Voice of the Collector (1936-1938) was around briefly; and
the Matchonia & Hobby Advertiser (1938-1939) was produced
until it turned into the Collectors Forum.
All of this was the breeding ground, so to speak,
for the nexus of collectors who would eventually form the Rathkamp
Matchcover Society, the first club in the world to really specialize
in matchcovers. Those early pioneers, such as Henry Rathkamp,
Tom Torrent, Bob Oliver, Ken Riggs, and the unsung collectors
who came before them, laid the foundation for the RMS we have
todaythe oldest and largest matchcover- collecting organization
in the world. For a modern collector, such as myself,
one cant help but sigh sometimes when thinking of what
a great collecting era those early collectors lived into
be surrounded by Safety Firsts and Diamond Qualities, to anxiously
await the latest release of Colgate covers, to scour the town
for new Midgets....Ah, those were the days!
- Over the decades, the hobby has
developed a number of rather unique traditions that now characterize
who and what we are.
Trading by mail! One of the neat
things about matchcovers is that they have always been small
enough and plentiful enough so that there has been a constant
trading back and forth by mail between collectors. Every day,
there are matchcovers criss-crossing the country, on their way
to new homes!
- Room Hopping! What a great activity!
At conventions, collectors visit other collectors' rooms. Each
room has free covers set out for the taking. Visitors are welcome
to come in, browse, socialize, and help themselves to whichever
covers they need.
Display contests! We LOVE to see
great covers! Individuals, clubs, and sponsoring companies present
plaques and trophies to collectors whose presentations of great
covers, boxes, and/or labels in "displays" have been
judged to be the best in their respective categories. Some win
due to rarity, others for their subject matter, and still others
for their attractiveness. You'll always hear lots of "oh's"
and "ah's" in any display room!
- Shucking contests! At conventions
and swapfests, collectors often get together for a one-of-a-kind
contest--shucking! A handful of collectors will be seated at
a table or tables, each with a caddy of matchbooks (that's usually
50 matchbooks). At a given signal, all will start stripping the
matches out of the matchbooks ("shucking"); at the
end, the person who has successfully shucked the most matchbooks
wins...but all contestants walk away with the entire caddy they
were working on!
Convention bags! Any time you register
at a convention, you receive a convention bag. What's inside?
Hundreds of great covers, lots of little knick-knacks (many of
which are collectible), and a surprise or two!
- Freebie tables! A staple of conventions,
swapfests, and club meetings! Tables that are mounded over
with covers...free for the taking. Ah, I've found many a great
cover on various Freebie tables around the country! It's always
great fun to "sit and sift!" One never knows what may
Swapfests! Although there are two
big conventions annually (RMS and AMCAL), there are several swapfest
each year, such as UES (held in Maryland) and the Long Beach
Swapfest (held in Southern California). The swapfests, as the
term implies, are characterized by a more concentrated focus
on obtaining covers. There's a lot of trading between collectors,
big auctions, selling, and the always popular freebie tables.
- Collector generosity! More than
anything else, what makes up all of the other facets of the hobby
is the collectors themselves. What a great bunch of people! You'll
have to search far and wide before finding a more helpful and
generous group than matchcover collectors. They share their experience
and knowledge...they share their covers...they share the fun!
They donate to all the hobby's activities and events...they take
new collectors under their wings...they become lifelong friends.
The hobby deals in matchcovers, but the hobby is
Today there are far more clubs in
the US than in any other country! Rathkamp
Matchcover Society is the national
organization and is the biggest, and the oldest, matchcover collecting
organization in the world. Then there are regional clubs, such
as Northern California's Sierra-Diablo
Matchcover Club, blanketing the US
and eastern Canada, and finally there are the specialty clubs
that focus on one type of cover/box (Girlies, Mermaids, etc.).
us, won't you, in a truly wonderful hobby!