There’s definitely a nostalgia associated with matchbooks that people appreciate," says general manager Liz Liu of Paley in Los Angeles when asked why the restaurant still carries these relics of the past. With cigarette smoking on the decline and smoking indoors a distant memory at this point, why are restaurants, bars and hotels still giving matchbooks away?
"We’ve noticed guests are more likely to take a matchbook than a business card, since, more often than not, cards just end up taking up space in your wallet," Liu explains.
That's right: It turns out you aren't the only one who's still collecting matches, and there's a good reason. Just ask enthusiasts like Ben Stott of A Life in Matches or this matchcover-collecting society (yeah, that's a thing).
Jack Wagner, president of Colorado-based manufacturer and design company Wagner Match Corp., says matchbooks are one of the best forms of advertising for the hospitality industry. "People love matches. They are little pieces of art that serve a function," he says. Wagner tells The Denver Post that the company "sells millions of them nationally each year." While the company works closely with artists on the designs, he admits many of their "clients are getting more pro-active all the time." Some of the other top manufacturers still in business today include Atlas Atlantis, Diamond and D.D. Bean.
Since matchbooks are pretty much free publicity, it's crucial they be eye-catching but also informative. Some have irreverent illustrations, while others are more straightforward. If you want to be truly mesmerized, check out the Instagram account Matchbook Diaries.
Whatever the style, matchbooks convey a mood or cast a scene. Liu worked with Mucca design firm in New York City to tell the story of her restaurant. "We wanted our matchbooks to reflect the golden age of Hollywood. The design also pays homage to our historic location in Columbia Square, originally commissioned by CBS Studios and home to the first Hollywood-based film production company, Nestor Studios. The lines and circles invoke radio waves, and the Paley A resembles a broadcast tower."
Dana Katzakian, who works with April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman's West Coast restaurant, Tosca Cafe, says the team inherited the matchboxes from the original property. “The matchboxes are another part of Tosca’s history that we try to maintain. Ours have a drawing of the House Cappuccino machine on the back." It's a symbol of the restaurant that diners commonly reference, Katzakian says. “People love them! We still have people that join us and ask for a matchbox as memorabilia, since they still collect matchboxes from all the places they go to."
Though not as many people are grabbing a pack of matches for a smoke these days, it turns out these little mementos are still just as functional. They're unique ways to remember your favorite haunts and spread the word.
So next time you find somewhere you really want to remember, don't shy away from swiping a matchbook on your way out. You'll have a collection built up in no time.