They were cheap entertainment during the Depression. Today? Matchbooks offer a unique challenge.
Matchbooks from the 1930’s present a chance to start a unique and challenging collection for much less than most traditiional sports cards from the era.
Used as a highly successful advertising campaign, matchbook companies put popular players from different sports on matchbook covers to attract customers.
The hobby of collecting matchbook covers was actually very popular the 1930’s and even before, but really took off when groups started to form between 1933 and 1939. Many of these matchbook covers were in hot demand during the period, and were produced regularly until the advent of World War II, when the companies turned to supporting the war effort. It was a cheap hobby to have during the Great Depression when there was no shortage of smokers and access to matchbooks was relatively easy.
In 1934, the Diamond Match Company centered in the town of Barberton, Ohio released a set of baseball player matchbooks featuring a choice of four various background colors with a total of 200 in the set. Selling at a price of two for a penny, the matchbooks featured the likes of Carl Hubbell, Dizzy Dean and Casey Stengel. The prices for these today depend on the player’s star power, with a common player generally valued from $3-4 up to $25 . Hall of Famers can draw $75 and up.
Diamond followed its 1934 "Silver Border" set with a black border issue in 1935. It consisted of only 24 players with different color framing. The set includes a number of Hall of Famers, but again, no Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig.
Another series released between 1935 and 36 consists of posed portraits and a total of 156 subjects. Again, at least three color varieties were issued for most players. Dizzy Dean and Mel Ott are among the more sought after Hall of Famers included in the set.
Diamond issued two sets in 1936, a 13-book issue and another 23-book group featuring primarily Chicago Cubs players.
The National Football League was still a baby, but In the late 1930s and early 40s, Ross Jewelers and Home Laundry sponsored sets featuring different Washington Redskins players on the front. They’re quite rare with good quality pieces ranging from $10 to $25. Each set contains 20 players. Sammy Baugh, who was carving out his Hall of Fame career at the time, appears in each set, and books featuring him on the front, bring $75 and up depending on condition. The ’39 set is more difficult to locate, in part because of the extremely scarce single prints of Steve Stivinski and Jim Barber.
The nationally distributed football sets generally consist of 95-121 players featuring pro and college players including popular members of the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. The unnumbered sets feature many unheralded players but the 1933 Diamond set includes both Red Grange and Bronko Nagurski. Grange is also featured in the 1934 set, while Nagurski returns in ’36.
College team rivals were also given a showing with Diamond’s 1934 and ’35 "College Rivals" set. The backs feature short summaries of the games played the year before such as: Army vs Navy and Notre Dame vs USC. This group was immensely popular when released at the time. The sets don’t really showcase any big talent, but the collector can still have hope of completing them since they each consist of only 12 different books and aren’t as costly as some of the other sets.
Matchbook sport covers are a fascinating addition to any vintage collection, and are worth the effort to locate, even if all you want is a sample, or ‘type card’ of each. There are many still available on the market, varying in price according to the player and surviving quality of the matchbook.
Vintage matchbooks on eBay