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Urban Archeologist: Matchmaker Matchmaker…

Matchbooks for the ages.

I’ve said many times before — “Some of us were born to collect, and some of us have great collections thrust upon us” — at least it’s a quote I would like to be known for saying. I have never been able to settle for collecting one thing, it may be more accurate to admit I am a collector of collections — or maybe the stories around them.

In an article published a few weeks ago, I wrote about a jar of matches I picked up at an auction. It wasn’t the matches I wanted, but the odd coins of varying currency among them. I have purchased matches before, though not nearly in as great a quantity, again because there was something among them.

I can’t take for granted the fact that some readers may not realize there was a time when smoking was the norm. Much like the wearing of hats was a sign of civilized society, smoking and its accessories were widely available. Matchbooks especially were at every counter, every reception desk and every hotel room as a reminder that when you do something as essential to the human race as “make fire,” do it with matches with “our” complements.

Since 1895 matches have been used as a form of advertising. The history of matches themselves is easily found in an Internet search, but can be abridged to the invention of the “safety” match that allows the conversion of the phosphorus on the match head to ignite only when struck against the chemicals in the striker pad on the matchbook. Before that, users ran the risk of poisoning from the gas emitted from the white phosphorus alone.     

Today, at flea markets, tag sales and auctions you can find these in large and small collections from all over the world — some rare, some common, but all different. When cleaning out an attic or garage you are likely to find a souvenir from a hotel long since demolished. Because of the variety and creativity in which such a small billboard was put to use, they have become tiny icons of places and products that no longer exist.

My small collection, some of which are featured above, came from a Bethel sale that I purchased because there were so many local landmarks. Some I remembered and some I never knew existed. The Hotel Green in Danbury stood in a prominent place right on Main Street. The 1953 restaurant/supper club “La Ronda” started by the Spanish-born Orchestra leader Enric Madriguera in Newtown has shades of similarity to the classic sit-com “I Love Lucy.”  The interior map from the Merritt to the restaurant is just one of the pleasant surprises from collecting this “hot-headed” memorabilia.

Search around for some of the other matchbooks in my collection “of collections” on the Blog and see if you can answer this question: Did advertisers mean to threaten shoppers by the way they placed animals in their ads? Take a look at this gem from 1917.

Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story.  You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.

Mark Langlois February 24, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Hotel Green is one of those Danbury things you always hear about in Danbury. I think it was in the area of 375 Main St., near Tuscany. The picture looks like the Ives Manor near Main and West. I'm not certain I ever believed it was real until I saw the matches.
Gail Miller September 16, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Mark it was on the site of the Ives Manor. It was a magnificent hotel. My grandfather worked there. My husband was a musician there. The Scott Fanton Museum has information on the hotel. Gail Miller
Donald G.Piper February 08, 2013 at 02:46 PM
Hotel Green - Danbury,CT When I saw mention of this venerable hotel, it brought back fond memories of the 1950's. I often would take Sat.drives around Fairfied County with my grandfather, back then, and we would often end up at the Hotel Green, at lunchtime. We'd go down the few steps next to the front entrance, into the lower-level "Mad Hatter Bar & Grill" and have our lunch. Usually preceded by a cocktail, and a very reasonally priced tasty meal. What fun it was. I've not thought about those times in over 50 years, until I saw that image of The Hotel Green...Memories ! Don Piper
Tony May 14, 2013 at 11:57 AM
Hi, I thought Hotel Green was where the Bishop Kurtis house is next to where we always called the green, south Main street almost across from the old court house. My Great grandfather was a cook there in the late 30's early 40's. I have the printing press they used in the 1800's to print menus with.
Tony May 14, 2013 at 02:55 PM
I know this posting is old, If you look at the old post cards that are on Ebay. In one you can see the old jail two buildings down to the south. The front of the building has been redone over the years.

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