This article was inspired by Australian matchboxes, but I must begin with the most charming letter imaginable; written by the British author Sylvia Townsend Warner to her dear friend Alyse Gregory. It was in response to the gift of a sweet, wooden match box.

Sylvia Townsend Warner's letter about a matchbox.
Wooden matchbox
A small work of art.


The familiar Redheads matches were first made in Australia in 1909  by Brymay, in Richmond. Sad to say, they are now made in Sweden.

There was scarcely an aspect of life in  this country not affected by World War II. Rationing was in place and even  the humble matchbox had to undergo changes to support  the war effort.  Due to limited supplies of phosphorus,  the Federal Match Company  produced boxes with only one striking side. The back of the box was used to advertise war bonds.  There was even a suggestion that  the matches  themselves should be made with a head at each end, to conserve match wood.

Federal Matches box during WWII
The patriotic matchbox


In the early days, entomologists from the Australian Museum  would take empty matchboxes into the field when collecting specimens.   With a bit of protective padding they made cheap and serviceable  containers.

Matchbox bug collection
Boxes of bugs at the Australian Museum.

The boxes themselves became collectable when they were printed with colorful images . During the Great Depression young  boys would hang around the docks in port cities offering to buy matchboxes from foreign seamen. The going rate was a penny apiece.

Trading in matchboxes
Matchbox series sea crestures
A nice set.


Give your children  a few empty match boxes and they  will entertain themselves for hours .

My siblings and I used to print the letter B in the bottom of a box. We would then trot about annoying people no end by asking if they wanted to see our pet bee. Oh dear!

Here is better trick  published in a  1930’s newspaper;

This little trick is quite easily prepared. Place a few used matches in a matchbox and then fix it up your  sleeve by  slipping an elastic band around your wrist. Remember it must not show. Now take an empty box in your hand, and go to a friend with it. Shake the box  so that the one up your sleeve rattles,  then hand  him  the empty  one to open. He will be so surprised to find no matches.

Mtchbox container for sewing items.
Matchbox container for  a child’s sewing items.
 Toys from Matchboxes
Quaint creations



You could furnish an entire dolls house with matchbox furniture and many of us did when we were young. I made armchairs and tables, but never a writing desk. It’s pretty cool.

A wriggly snake is simple to make too;

Someone told me recently that her mother would save the foil from Easter Eggs to cover matchbox dolls’ furniture ….what a lovely idea.

It seemed that  disposable lighters would spell the end for matches and their useful boxes, but they are hanging in there.  I still use them to light my  wood fire.



A confession.  During my misspent life as a teenager, a matchbox was the cause of one of the  most embarrassing incidents  of my life. I was attending dancing lessons, and lit a cigarette between the waltz and the foxtrot. Not knowing what to do with my match, I thrust it back in the box. Unfortunately it was still burning, and a few seconds later the entire contents ignited. I held the box until 20 odd matches burnt themselves  out. How the cardboard did not catch light I will never know.


  1. How I loved matchboxes.. I made dollshouse funiture out of them, knick knack treasure boxes, small carts, so many things. I was so disappointed when disposable lighters all but took over.

    • Pauline

      I still use matches every day, Chris. And Editor Des loves to play with the empty boxes.

  2. What a truly delightful letter, and so your subsequent story. I travelled a lot with work and always brought home a box or small pack of matches as a memento. I would do the same when eating at a posh restaurant. I kept them all in a large bowl on my hall table in Maidenhead, with the poshest of them showing at the top, naturally. However, I wasn’t very tolerant when a man I knew collected them with a passion; but which I thought, an obsession bordering OCD. He would email me dozens of photos showing his various categories, and as I looked at them, I could feel myself losing the will to live. After reading your piece though, I realise I just hadn’t ‘got it’ when Peter talked about his collection. Now, where did I put my matches?

    • Pauline

      It’s close to my favourite letter ever, Marcia. I found a huge cache of matchboxes among Jeannie’s stuff; collected on her O/S travels. With a shameful lack of sentiment I used them all lighting the fire. Not sure how I would feel about a bloke who collected matchboxes.

  3. I’ve still got a few posh matches from places like The Ritz or Monte Carlo! And lots from places no longer in existence, like The Donkey House PH at Windsor Riverside, or Piccolo Mondo, a favourite Italian restaurant in Bourne End at one time. I think the days must be long gone where every pub or restaurant had a bowl of matches next to the till. Loved to think Jeannie picked them up as mementos like I did.

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