by Mike Prero
This article was originally published in the RMS Bulletin, March 1997 Issue #465, and is reprinted with permission.
Everyone's after covers, and there's no denying that they're harder to pick up these days, so I thought it might be helpful to get together and share favorite strategies for success. Aside from the obvious reason why this could be of use, many collectors find that it is the "thrill of the hunt" which is the most enjoyable part of putting together any collection. There are a variety of methods for obtaining covers suggested here. They're all tried and proven. Pick and choose the ones which you feel the most comfortable with. I've outlined the basic methods below, and we'll also take a look in this issue at what a cross-section of collectors do to obtain their covers.
Where to Start:
If you're just starting out in the hobby, before seriously approaching collecting, you're going to have to deal with the problem of exactly what you want to collect, at least on an initial basis. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of categories in which one can collect, ranging from the gigantic areas, such as "Hotels/Motels" and "Restaurants," to minute areas, such as "Aardvarks," or "Fire Engine Companies." Any collector is always free to collect whatever strikes his or her fancy, and most add any drop categories as their collecting careers progress. A good way to start out is to begin by being a "General" collector, collecting any and all covers. This will give you the opportunity to become acquainted with various categories and types of covers, and which ones are easy to come by and which are more difficult. Eventually, most collectors drop "General" and specialize in just certain categories. Most of us aren't willing or simply not capable of dealing with the tremendous volume of covers or the enormous amount of space required to house a truly good General collection, but in the beginning "General" is good, and, besides you'll need trading stock, anyway.
Undoubtedly, the fastest method of getting covers is to buy them, and, judging from the survey forms, almost all collectors do, either regularly or occasionally. Most collectors can't afford to go around buying entire collections, though, so "buying," here, basically refers to participating in auctions from time to time or employing any of the other buying strategies discussed here. Almost all of the regional clubs carry on mail auctions through their bulletins, as does RMS; auctions are also held at the conventions and major swapfests; and there are even some private mail auctions held by individual collectors. This is a major reason, by the way, why a collector would want to belong to clubs out of his local area for the bulletins and the auctions. Erich Miethner and I used to do that.
If you would like to try buying entire collections, you might think about buying with a partner and then splitting the collection. That might bring the cost of such an approach down to a more reasonable level for you.
There is another form of buying that's cheaper and usually quite successful: run a local ad offering to buy accumulations. Many people have them sitting around the house, stored in the garage, etc.; they'd really like to get rid of them, but they're souvenirs of past vacations and they don't want to just throw them out. Some will simply give their matches to you; others will be expecting to make a killing; but most will accept .02-.05 cents each for the run-of-the-mill type covers. When I do this, I run my ad for four weeks, let it lapse for 2-3 months (thereby allowing time for new people to move into the area), and then run it again. A fascinating aspect of this method of getting covers is that you never know what you're going to run into.
Unless your last name is Rockefeller or Kennedy, though, buying is probably not going to be your main way of getting covers...so let's get down to the nuts and bolts of building up both your collection and trading stock. First, do it yourself! You're constantly going into a variety of businesses, such as: hotels, restaurants, shoe stores, hardware stores, garages, etc. Some are going to have matches available, although they may no longer be so temptingly placed in a basket on the counter. If they are, take some.
Many collectors go a step farther and ask for an entire caddy or more. It doesn't hurt to ask, and who knows what you're going to end up with. Each such collector has developed his own technique for doing so, but it's always a good idea to carry one or more of your club membership cards to show that you're serious. Bill Thomas's article in the Nov./Dec. issue went into detail on acquiring caddies.
Second, club meetings, conventions, and the major swapfests offer freebie tables where you can simply help yourself (within reason, of course). Also, the AMCAL and RMS conventions offer room-hopping, where you can help yourself to one of each type of cover the room has to offer. It's not unusual for a novice convention-goer to come home with several thousand new covers, just from the freebie tables, room-hopping, and registration bags.
Third, no matter how good you turn out at getting covers yourself, there's only one of you. What you need is an army! Your first recruits: friends and relatives. Uncle Harry is always out gallivanting all over the country, and your sister is taking that vacation to Hawaii next month. Spread the word that you would appreciate their picking up matches for you whenever they get the chance, and then watch them roll in (of course, it helps if you're very social and come from a large family!).
Fourth, by far, the best way is to trade. There are covers all over the world, and new ones being issued every day. Alone, it would be a hopeless task to try and build up a collection. By trading, you can literally have that army, widely dispersed, keeping an eye out for the covers you want. Almost all collectors trade with at least a few others on a regular basis; some trade with over a hundred. It all depends on how much correspondence you can handle and how big your trading stock is.
Traders may be found by: 1) writing to collectors listed as willing to trade (in The Traders Index or a club membership list) [This is the best way]; 2) running an ad in any of the club bulletins; 3) making contacts at club meetings, conventions, etc.; and 4) random mail requests to other collectors [This is the worst way].
A corollary of this would also be to look for collectors of other items who would trade their matchcovers for the items they want from you. A fairly common example of this involves matchcover collectors trading business cards for covers.
There are really no set prices in this hobby. Older covers generally bring higher prices as long as they are unstruck and undamaged. After that, it depends on who is bidding and how badly the bidders want the material. Matchcovers are made in the millions and so most are only worth pennies. Most accumulations of matches picked up over the years have more sentimental than monetary value. Collectors of matchcovers don't get involved in the hobby to get rich.
You can try checking Ebay's current listings to get a feel for the going prices on various types of matchcovers or you can attend a matchcover club and meet other collectors that might be interested in buying or selling.
Just keep in the back of your mind that the value of a collection largely isn't monetary. The value is in the pleasant hours spent finding, organizing, displaying and caring for your collection and the many friendships you make along the way with fellow collectors. There is also a sense of accomplishment when you have accumulated a collection that is respected by your peers. Have fun!
Matchcover collecting is one of the fastest growing hobbies in America today. Thousands of people from all over the world enjoy the fund and relaxation this educational hobby brings. Unfortunately businesses don't give away advertising matchbooks much anymore, but whenever you see them, make it a habit to grab some. At first you'll want to grab any matchbook you see. Eventually though, you may decide to specialize. If you want to build your collection more quickly, you may also choose to buy covers.
Some of the most popular categories of matchcovers are listed below:
This category consists of matchcovers from any financial institution, such as banks, savings and loans or credit unions.
These covers have a specific date or year printed on them and are usually issued to celebrate a special event or anniversary. They can also include sports schedules, fairs, political campaigns, etc.
This category includes groups such as the Elks, Moose, Eagles, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, etc. Most units have a number, so it is easy to group them numberically.
This is probably the most popular collecting category, and includes covers from any establishment which offers lodging for the night. Hotel chains are very popular; Holiday Inn, TravelLodge, Best Western, and others.
Jewels are extra long matchbooks with 30 matches, often beautifully designed. Jewelites are the same overall size but are die cut to form special shapes such as pizzas or footballs and are very unique!
This is Universal's trade name for its matchbooks with full colored photographs. They are normally the larger 30 or 40-strike size.
These are matchbooks which are normally sold in stores or souvenir shops and contain no advertising. They are often colorful and beautifully designed.
Many restaurants offer matches, so this is one of the most widely collected categories. Included is any establishment that serves food.
Two or more matchcovers issued at the same time constitute a set. They can feature different views of a tourist attraction, a series of jokes, or almost anything.
This category is usually defined as matchcovers issued from towns of 2,500 people or less. Some collectors try to get covers from every small town in a state or the country.
Matchcovers in this category include advertising for any means of paid transportation, such as airlines, railroads, taxis, and ship, bus, and truck lines.
These are covers issued by the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, Marine and Navy bases, officers' mess, NCO clubs, PXs, etc.
Matchcovers are also classified by size:
- 20-strike matchbooks are the regular size we see most, and have 20 matchsticks per book.
- 30-strike matchbooks are larger and are also popular. They have 30 matchsticks per book.
- 40-strike matchbooks (billboards) have 40 matchsticks per book.
- 10-strike matchbooks and matchboxes aren't quite as common, and their uniqueness makes them desirable.