Friday, 17 October 2014

Things to do with a matchbox...

Where would a boy be without his matchbox? Now then, don’t titter, I’m serious. A boy without a matchbox is like a woman without a purse; well, it was when I was a boy anyway. Of course, back then everybody smoked, so pretty much everybody carried a box of matches. Only toffs used lighters and cheap disposable lighters were yet to come. Boxes of matches sold by their millions with hundreds of match companies manufacturing them.

Collecting matchboxes was quite the thing, and for a while I collected. I must have had over a hundred carefully stuck into an old maroon exercise book. They came from all over the world – Finland, China, Sweden, Russia, India, Japan and some of the designs were very intricate, the illustrations miniature masterpieces. The names were marvellous too – England’s Glory, Criterion, 99, Lucifer, Galloping Major, King Kong, ATM, White Wolf, names from the past of Empire.

Most of the boxes themselves were made of incredibly thin wood and stuck together with even more incredibly thin paper. The labels were proudly adhered to the top and you had to be really careful to peel them off without tearing them. Bryant and May had a tiny ark on theirs and the warning to ‘use matches sparingly’. Average contents were usually 40, so (what with fags, lighting fires and gas ovens) to use a box a day wasn’t unusual. It would be fair to say that matchboxes where everywhere and you couldn’t open a drawer without finding at least one hidden at the back or tucked into a corner.

As a boy I usually had one or two empty matchboxes in my pockets. They were really useful for collecting and transporting ‘finds’ home. Spiders, ladybirds, grasshoppers, bits of broken blackbird eggshells, the occasional tiny linnet egg, a dead dried lizard, small live frogs, mouse skulls, leaves, shiny stones, fossils, shells, pieces of clay pipe - all found their way into one of my matchbox carriers at one time or another. I even kept a collection of matchboxes holding all my treasures on my bedroom windowsill - miniature worlds of boyhood.

Matchboxes were one of the most useful things in the word to a seven year old boy. You could pop them open, inserting one into another to build a tower, add card and pin wheels and race a car, stick a paper flag in one and sail a boat along the gutter on a stormy day. When I collected live things (even worms and centipedes) I made holes in the top with a nail. I once even used a matchbox to bring some frogspawn home and it worked.

For years I kept my money in a matchbox in my pocket - pennies, thruppences, tanners, shillings, two bob pieces, even the occasional half crown (which only just fitted). There was something reassuring about a heavy matchbox filled with coins, something solid that a purse (which of course a real boy would never contemplate carrying in his pocket) could never have.

It’s been years since I’ve seen a wooden matchbox. At some point they were replaced with card boxes but I don’t remember it happening. I miss them in the way that I miss a lot of things these days and I can almost still hear the crack of the thin white wood splintering as I stamped on one with my shoe.

For something that cost tuppence (including contents) in old money (less than a penny these days) matchboxes have become pretty valuable. You’ll pay at least a fiver for a slightly battered example, much more for a rare or mint one. I must have had hundreds, even thousands, pass through my hands over the years - if only I still had all of them now.

21 comments:

  1. Andy B D Bickerdike
    I Keep a dead butterfly and ladybird in one currently.. I did know someone who kept a rather large 'Nose crow' in a matchbox

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Andrew Height
      Mr B - you really are whatever!

      Delete
  2. David Jones on FB
    Matches funnily enough

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Andy B D Bickerdike
      yeah... I have to be whatever in a world that dawddles along

      Delete
  3. Andrew Height
    David, but beyond the matches?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. David Jones on FB
      Drawing pins!

      Delete
  4. David Jones on FB
    Used to play table top rugby with the cardboard ones at school lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Andrew Height
      I remember that David.

      Delete
  5. Sharon Taylor on FB
    we used to have a competition at school, probably the end of year, how many items can you fit in a matchbox? My favourite school competition though was making a garden using the lid of a biscuit tin, the pond was always a very small compact mirror. This has brought back so many memories x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Andrew Height
      I think we did the matchbox competition one year too. A compact mirror - ingenious. Did you put moss around the edges of it? I loved craft things at school and would spend hours making collages and Christmas logs. I think we were lucky to be born into simpler times. Who would play with a matchbox these days?

      Delete
    2. Sharon Taylor
      too be fair Neil's niece has had me playing with her for ages with a balloon! However I don't remember much more about my minature garden, probaly had little flowers from the garden, but I only remember fushias from Brookfiled Road.

      Delete
  6. Lindsey Messenger on FB
    Oh I remember seeing how many things you could get in a matchbox.....and making a plate garden.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Andrew Height
      I bet Caroline Jones or Mandy Smith won Lindsey.

      Delete
    2. Lindsey Messenger
      Hehe...maybe

      Delete
    3. Andrew Height
      Lindsey they seemed to win most things.

      Delete
  7. Kevin Parrott on FB
    When I was about nine I had a matchbox with some mercury in it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Andrew Height
      Kevin that is phenomenal. I can picture the bead of liquid inside the box, moving around and changing shape, but never making anything wet.

      Delete
  8. Sarah Farmer on FB
    A tiny mouse I found and proceeded to show my mum... she trying not to show her horror (she was petrified) asked me to put it back from where I found it x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Andrew Height
      A match box coffin. Most of my fairground won goldfish ended up in one Sarah.

      Delete
  9. Replies
    1. I don't believe you did that Mr Lloyd.

      Delete