Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Vintage Vegas matches

My latest collection obsession is collecting vintage matchbooks. I feel like I’m at a Pepaws Anonymous (PA) meeting confessing that–since most of the sellers I’ve encountered are old men–and no one’s more surprised than me that this is my new hobby. (Well, this and burning records into bowls, but I’ll get to that later.) It all started innocently enough when I was at one of my neighbourhood antique stores two or three months ago and I found two big Ziploc bags of matchbooks for $5 each. Never one to turn down a bargain–these bags were dirt-cheap compared to some of the jars of matchbooks right next to them for 3X the price–I snapped up both bags, intrigued by the vintage Holiday Inn, Ramada, & Marriott matchbooks that I could see in the stapled-shut bags. As I was paying for my newfound treasures, this creepy old man with a ponytail and only about half his teeth asked me if I was a matchbook collector. When I told him these were my first purchases, but that I was excited to start a collection, he said something I’ll never forget: “It’s fun, ain’t it?” Just the way he said it–flashing his half-empty smile and scratching the rat’s nest of a grey ponytail on his head–nearly made me throw the matches down and run. He then told me he was a vendor, and to come back and see him if I wanted to buy some more matchbooks. I felt completely violated, and felt certain he was trying to interest me in something more than just some old matchbooks. What had I gotten myself into, I thought the whole way home. The preferred hobby of dirty old men?!?

Once I got home and looked thru all those matchbooks and carefully arranged them in an oversized, wide-mouthed vase, I knew I was hooked. There were even a few Las Vegas casino matchbooks in the mostly Atlanta-centric lot, which opened up a whole new spectrum of matchbooks I could easily covet. I also lucked out with a Toots Shor matchbook, which is worth about $8 alone based on the going eBay price. I was very pleased with myself, especially since my whole little collection took up very little room. This was actually the biggest selling point to me about starting the collection: what takes up less space than a matchbook? Coins, perhaps, but matchbooks are relatively dirt-cheap and are such a great, semi-lost form of advertising. It’s like owning a little piece of the business represented by the matchbook, and owning a piece of history since so few places still provide custom matchbooks. In fact at my hotel, I myself have to buy matchbooks from Kroger because we quit ordering custom matchbooks for our Lobby Bar. I guess it makes sense since so fewer guests smoke, but there’s always going to be a need for matches. Here’s a partial pic of my original collection:

Hodge podge of matches from my original lot purchase

Fast forward to my trip to Vegas last month, and I happened upon an antique store there where I bought an oversized cocktail glass of strictly casino matchbooks for $25. The price was a bit steep, but the guys running the shop were really cool and took the time to explain to me how matchbook collecting really works. It’s pretty much like collecting baseball cards: one keeps the matchbooks that are valuable and/or they’re super-attached to, and the rest you trade or sell for better ones. For instance, in the vase above, the bulk of the matchbooks can’t be seen in the middle of the vase. They’re essentially filler, though many of them are really cool representations of bygone Atlanta businesses. A handful in both my original and my Vegas lots are “roached out,” as the guys on ‘American Pickers’ call motorcycles and cars which are not much more than scrap metal. I actually threw a few matchbooks away, just because they were gross-looking and had no redeeming value. And there’s also some repetition, such as the five Golden Nugget Atlantic City matchbooks that came in the Vegas lot I got off eBay last week. As the ‘Facts of Life’ theme song goes, “You take the good, you take the bad…” The great thing about buying in lots is that the price is astronomically cheaper per matchbook than buying individual matchbooks, which range from $2.50 on up including shipping. Speaking of shipping, the bad thing is that technically you’re not supposed to ship matches since they’re flammable, so alot of times the seller will sell only the matchbook covers. But there’s also an informal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule I’ve picked up on glancing over eBay auctions, and about half the sellers will sell the whole matchbooks in tact, which was the case with the ones I purchased.

I’ll let the matchbooks do the rest of the talking. These things really are miniature works of art, not to mention portable, handy advertising. It’s a shame they’ve gone the way of the typewriter and (cymbal clash) the ashtray. Way to go, lung cancer!

Back of Caesars matchbox

DI inside matchbook cover--this resort was Wilbur Clark's masterpiece.

Original MGM Grand (now Bally's)

Named after Spencer Tracy, this MGM Grand restaurant was destroyed in the 1980 hotel fire.

There was also a restaurant named after the Barrymores (I have yet to get my hands on that matchbook).

Jai alai is a racquetball-esque game that is often bet on. The MGM Grand had a court (AKA a fronton) back in the 70s at the height of the game's popularity.

The Sultan's Table was the swankiest restaurant in town when it opened at the Dunes.

One of my favourite inside matchbook covers...detailed, easy to read, and the background matches the matches!

I had several more pics I wanted to share, but my Internet is being super-slow tonight (it’s not helping that these pics are so large). I wanted to share one more pic of the latest record bowl I made. These are incredibly easy to craft, and I’ve only bought a couple of records that were more than $1, which makes it a very affordable hobby and gift-giving option. In a nutshell, all you do is set the oven t0 200F, take out one of the racks and put a cookie sheet on the bottom rack, balance the record on the top of a wide flower vase (I use a hurricane lamp glass), and give it a few minutes to become pliable. The record naturally curls up like ribbon, and you can mold it with your hands or by using a colander once you take it out of the oven. If you don’t like the way it turns out, you can always throw it back in the oven and start over. These make great catch-all bowls for keys, unique wall art, or even a ready-made, self-draining bowl for a small plant. Depending on what you intend to utilize it for, consider how cool the label looks. I was tickled to find this colourful Decca labeled-one today, and am already using it as a catch-all for my electrical chargers and adapters.

It goes without saying, but both these hobbies clearly fuel my nostalgia. And when the two collide, I have a record bowl full of vintage matchbooks, as seen in the tippy top pic! Happy pickin’ to everyone else enthralled in the world of antiques, which is enjoying a well-deserved revival these days thanks to the popular reality shows and the geeks like me who watch and imitate them.

Stay cool, folks!


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