[Technically, the general
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 at least one of the patents
that Diamond Match Co. purchased, and that's what
started off matchbook production.
In 1896, we have the famous
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.
[There ere are
a few other contenders
for the first printed
matchbook, not all from Binghamton] 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 began in1902...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, albeit none of they were exclusively
devoted to phillumeny. 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 be discovered.
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 the collector.
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
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,
us, won't you, in a truly wonderful hobby!