The British matchbook tended to be printed on better quality card and to a higher standard than the transatlantic version. They were normally sold to the customer for a nominal penny or given away in hotels and restaurants. The individual matches often carried a brief message and the match heads themselves were sometimes produced in colours to suit the product being promoted. They come from a time when smoking was at the peak of its social acceptance and still traded on associations with masculinity and sophistication. A brief glance at any collection will confirm just how many of them originate in bars, restaurants, gambling dens or nightclubs.
The best of them display a high degree of visual invention and sophisticated typography. The Eno's example is adapted from a design by McKnight Kauffer. Interesting to note how hospitals took a benign attitude to smoking and made extensive use of them to help with fundraising. Vanished tobacco brands include Rubicon, Rugby, Varsity and Rummy cigarettes as well as the splendidly named Injunella cigar. The shipping lines made very effective use of them, expressing the glamour and excitement of an ocean voyage with dramatic maritime imagery. On the basis of these examples they outperformed the railway companies whose output, with a few exceptions was resolutely prosaic. Of course to be authentically British an appearance by our much loved royals is essential – but on this occasion they must do so in the company of the Scottish Ice Rink at Crossmyloof, the Nottinghamshire Sea Scouts and Butlin’s Luxury Holiday Camps.
If you need to see more of these beguiling miniature packages – Robin Benson has some here and Chris Mullen has some here.