Parkway Tavern, St. Paul, Minn.
Matchbook covers were the internet of the 1930s through the 1950s. Think about it: Matchbooks were a freely distributed medium available to all classes of society that enabled the end user to find such goods and services as “ice cream,” “package goods,” laundromats, “de luxe cottages,” and “real Cuban rhumba.” Furthermore, matchbook covers used images of sex to entice end users into consuming alcohol and other addictive narcotic agents (nicotine).
Okay, so maybe that argument is a stretch. But clearly, matchbook covers were a very visible part of society during that time, and that isn’t the case today. Smoking rates are surely down since World War II, and people probably spend less time in bars and more time in their smoke-free homes (and hey, bars are smoke-free nowadays too).
I quit smoking a couple years ago, but even when I was smoking I didn’t rely on matchbooks very much, I used lighters and sometimes wooden matches in matchboxes. My dad used to collect matchbooks, but this was in the 1980s or so and they were fancier than these ones pictured here.
James Lileks features this amusing gallery of “Cheesecake Matchbooks” on his expansive website brimming with vintage nonsense. Lileks has published a few books, of which two of the best-known are The Gallery of Regrettable Food and Mommy Knows Worst: Highlights from the Golden Age of Bad Parenting Advice.
I like the text advertisements almost as much as the sexy ladies. I want to know more about Grant Mullinax and Delbert H. Arbuckle and Al Fussner!