Matchbook covers: Striking collectibles

Matchbook collectors gather to swap, shop and talk about their disappearing collectible

Matchbook collectors gather to swap, shop and talk about their disappearing collectible

August 09, 2009|By NATALIE BRANDON / Special to The Herald-Mail

Did you collect baseball cards as a child? Maybe you have collected coins, stamps or seashells. For the true collector, the thrill is more than just acquisition; it's also in the chase. It's the excitement of finding the rarest, most obscure things that makes collecting so much fun.

The City of Hagerstown and the United Eastern Swapfest will host the 69th annual Rathkamp Matchcover Society convention Monday, Aug. 10, to Saturday, Aug. 15, at the Plaza Hotel near Valley Mall.

Registration for the RMS convention is $5, but the public is invited to see the display room and dealers tables at no cost.

Called "phillumenists," avid matchcover collectors will meet to share their collections and collecting tips, display interesting and unusual specimens, participate in auctions and, most importantly, meet friends.


"Many people enjoy the trips because they're making a vacation out of the week," says Joe DeGennaro, co-chairman for publicity for the society. "The auctions and freebie tables are very popular, but I think the chance to see old friends and talk about and trade matches is the highlight of the convention for most people."

The paper matchbook was invented in 1889 by Joshua Pusey, a Philadelphia lawyer , according to the American Matchcover Collecting Club's Web site at .

The RMS began in May 1939, when a group of matchcover collectors went to New York to pick up Navy ship-themed matchcovers and to visit the World's Fair.

he enthusiasts then conceived the idea of an annual convention. The first convention was held that September at the home of Henry Rathkamp in Newport, R.I., acccording to the Rathhamp Matchcover Society's Web site at .

Like a second family

This will be the 30th consecutive convention for Mont Alto, Pa., resident Linda Clavette Wolfe.

"(My first convention) was so much fun that I got bitten by the convention bug," says Wolfe, who is co-chairwoman for the convention. "The people I have met at conventions have become a second family to me. They come from all walks of life and live all over the world."

Rathkamp Matchcover Society is expecting nearly 300 attendees this year from the United States, Canada, England and Australia, according to the group's Web site.

Gayle Hofaker, registration coordinator for the event, says, "To show our creative side, many (RMS members) make displays of matchcovers. RMS and several local clubs provide trophies for the best displays. This is one way to see many older covers that one would not see otherwise."

A cheap collectible

"Some covers have come to be worth thousands of dollars," DeGennaro says.

A matchcover used at a special dinner honoring Charles Lindbergh after his historic trans-Atlantic flight sold for $4,000 at an auction in 1991.

Wolfe says she was at that auction and remembers the bidder.

"(He) came to the auction in a three-piece suit. He stuck out like a sore thumb," she says. "He was not the person who got the matchcover. He was there bidding for someone else."

Matchcovers are easy to find and their designs reflect their times. But that cuts two ways.

"The great thing about matches is that they were always so readily available and you could pick them up for free at places you visited," DeGennaro says, "Sadly, the cheap disposable lighter and bans on smoking in most places have made matches harder and harder to come across."

Hofacker claims it's the color and graphics appear on matchcovers that make them so appealing to collectors. "The graphics are often very beautiful," she says. "Matchcovers are also a part of history, and the number of categories or subjects is endless. But the best part of the hobby is the people. Everyone is so friendly and helpful."

Popular covers

There are hundreds of categories for collected matchcovers, and philluminists are constantly coming up with new genres to suit their specific interests. Categories include World War II, patriotism, military, national park, railroads and politics.

As a match collector of nearly 40 years, DeGennaro says his favorite cover is from World War II.

"(It) has Hitler on the front with the matchstriker on his rear end (and) the matches are shaped like little bombs," he says. "The logo says 'Strike Back at the Seat of the Problem.'"

Wolfe has about 25,000 matchcovers in her collection, and likes to tell how she acquired one of her favorites.

"I tried to get the matchcover from Princess Diana's wedding," she says, "I wrote to Buckingham Palace, but never received an answer. That same year (1981), I went to the RMS convention and a fellow collector gave me the matchcover and a matchbox that they had gotten at Princess Diana's wedding!"

WHAT: 69th annual Rathkamp Matchcover Society convention

WHEN: Monday, Aug. 10, to Saturday, Aug. 15

WHERE: Plaza Hotel near Valley Mall

COST: Registration costs $5, but the public may see the display room and dealers tables at no cost.

CONTACT: E-mail Linda Clavette Wolfe at

MORE: For more information, visit

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