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Matchbook Holders – A Unique and Storied Collectible

Andy Denes is a collector of a unique item called the matchbook holder. The matchbook holder is a 20th century version of a match safe (a small, portable box that holds loose stick matches). Rather than containing the loose matches in a box, a matchbook holder wraps around a familiar folding cardboard matchbook.

Andy discovered matchbook holders as a collateral collectible for a matchbook collection. An obscure but inexpensive item, Andy says they are, “Small enough so that I could assemble a large collection in a small space.”

The paper matchbook was invented in the 1890s, and in 1904, the matchbook holder was first patented as a container into which a matchbook could be inserted. After the 20 matches from the paper book were spent, you would toss the empty match cover away, but the holder would remain in your pocket, ready to cover up the ad on the next matchbook.

Matchbook holders became a sideline product for many companies that were manufacturing base metal, leather, and plastic advertising novelties. Silver, gold, and even platinum matchbook holders would be marketed by the likes of Tiffany, Gorham, and Cartier, often with matching cigarette cases. Reaching a high point between the world wars, matchbook holders continued to be manufactured in the 1950s, but their production has since decreased.

The U. S. produced the most matchbook holders, but there were thousands, from base metal to gold, made in England. Besides the United States and England, Andy’s collection also includes examples from Canada, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, South Africa, Germany, France, and Japan.

These matchbook holders are often tapered like a matchbook itself, but a different style of flat matchbook with balsa wood matchsticks was popular in Central Europe. Andy doesn’t collect matchbook holders for this style, but they exist, and they include styles made by Fabergé and other famous European craftsmen.

The collection has grown to over 3,000 matchbook holders, and Andy has had to restrict his acquisitions to only those produced in the United States. Says Andy, “I’ve accumulated quite a lot of information on the history of these obscure collectibles, and I keep telling myself that I will someday write a book. We'll see.”