Text by Andy Denes
In the 19th century, people carried their loose stick friction matches in little boxes (typically metal) called match safes. These would both contain the matches, lessen the chance they would ignite accidentally ("safe''), and also provide a striking surface on the outside of the match safe to scratch the friction match.
Matchbooks themselves were invented in the 1890s, and matchbook holders were first patented in 1904. Matchbooks contain "safety" matches; they can only be struck when scratched across a chemically treated surface. A matchbook accomplished everything that a match safe accomplished: it contained the matches within the little cardboard folder; they were safety matches, so they wouldn't ignite accidentally; and they provided the chemically treated strip - in those days, on the front, but nowadays, on the back - of the matchbook. Therefore, with a matchbook, you no longer needed a match safe.
However, my theory is that people had grown used to (and probably felt safer) carrying their matches "inside" of something. This explains why some entrepreneurs thought people would want to acquire matchbook holders. They served as a more efficient vehicle for advertising: after you struck your 20 matchsticks, you discard the empty cardboard matchbook cover, but you keep the matchbook holder and put a fresh matchbook inside. There were fancy matchbook holders - gold and silver - that could make a handsome gift. In our case, they could be souvenirs of some place or event, as the NYWF.
Blecher 1 - Samuel Blecher & Sons, Philadelphia. Blecher made a bizzillion different matchbook holders by switching their little disks and insignia around on their basic copper finish matchbook holder and on all manner of other metal novelties. Three of these holders here are dated 1939 and one 1940. They were individually packaged on a small card in cellophane which would be imprinted with Trylon & Perisphere, and "Official Souvenir. N. Y. World's Fair. Lic. 185. Blecher U. S. A."
Blecher 2 - A second style that Blecher employed. They copied this style holder from K & O Co. (see below).
EPCO - Etched Products Corp. of Long Island City, NY. Their matchbook holders will have something on both the front and back, usually a perpetual calendar on one side. With their NYWF holders, they had the bust of Washington. The trylon & perisphere designs in the top row all have the date "1939" above the perisphere. Those in the second row have no date. The odd design in the top row shows NYWF Washington Hall and has the date 1939. EPCO also made matchbook holders for the Golden Gate Int'l Expo.
K & O Co. - Kronheimer & Oldenbusch Co., New York. Perhaps best known for making book ends and desk sets, K & O were also prolific manufacturers of various souvenir metal novelties. The company went out of business in 1942 when they couldn't switch over to war production.
G. E. - General Electric . All of the previous matchbook holders are made of 3 parts: a front piece, a back piece, and a hinge. These plastic holders are only one piece - their is no back, and the matchbook is simply slid into the holder. These are all dated 1940. The design is based on Design Patent 121,989 issued to H. L. Bennett, assignor to General Electric Company, filed May 8, 1940, and granted August 20, 1940. The red one still contains a book of G. E. matches, and I assume they were distributed this way.
Neva Clog - Neva Clog Products, Inc., Bridgeport, CT. Neva Clog's main product were desk staplers, which, they claimed, never clogged up with the staples. However, they also produced many plastic matchbook holders as souvenirs and with advertisements. At least some of their matchbook holders were packaged with ten books of matches and sold that way. This may have been how they were distributed at the Fair.
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