[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 RMS’s 1941 inception. Its history is murky, but it’s there. It has its roots in matchbox label collecting in the 1800s. At that point, that’s 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 weren’t 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. [There ere are a few other contenders for the first printed matchbook, all from Binghamton] Now, the ball was rolling! Still, matchbooks weren’t common, weren’t varied, and weren’t widely available; ergo, collectors’ interest still hadn’t been aroused yet. The real turning point had to be 1902...that’s when the first huge order came in for matchbooks with printed advertisements on them—Pabst 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 exclusively.

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 Collector’s Exchange. Of course, this shouldn’t be surprising since label collecting was already much more established overseas.

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 Collector’s 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 today—the oldest and largest matchcover- collecting organization in the world. For a “modern” collector, such as myself, one can’t help but sigh sometimes when thinking of what a great collecting era those early collectors lived in—to 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
    • 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!
  • 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!
    • 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 be discovered.
  • 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!
    • 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 the collector.
  • 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.
  • 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.).

    ....Join us, won't you, in a truly wonderful hobby! 

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