Issue: CC102
1st January 2021

Twenty little salesmen

The end of the heyday for matchbook advertising

A selection of mid-1980s US matchbooks.

1985, USA. Over 17 billion matchbooks were estimated to have been produced that year. In Brooklyn, New York, 6 million of those carried the words, ‘Law Offices of Edward Horn – Free Consultation’.

Edward Horn’s matchbook advert

Advertising by lawyers had only been legalised by the Supreme Court eight years earlier and in July 1985, Chief Justice Warren Burger called it “sheer shysterism”. Less than 10% of lawyers were advertising at this time, and far fewer would have considered doing so on a matchbook!

It was Edward Horn’s friend Al Parker who gave him the idea – Parker had been advertising his U.S. Auto School on matchbooks for 20 years (see below). Matchbook advertising peaked in the 1970s (with 25 factories producing more than 35 billion matchbooks per year) but began to dwindle in the 1980s with the arrival of the disposable lighter and later, smoking bans.

Matchbooks for U.S. Auto School and The Hanover Shoe Co.

One matchbook (above) that looks a swizz is “cash quick”, “rush me FREE catalog and money-making kit.” It is however, from The Hanover Shoe Co., a large and successful shoe company founded in 1899 (and bought out by Clarks in 1978).

Horn’s matchbooks, like many others, were manufactured by D. D. Bean (est. 1938) in New Hampshire who now remain the only matchbook producer left in North America.

More 1980s matchbooks
Pharmacy matchbooks

1980s matchbooks come from a time when they were still ephemeral. They sat in bowls in everywhere from hotels and restaurants to pharmacies and the smoker saw the printed cover each time they struck one of the twenty matches – twenty little salesmen.

Restaurant matchbooks

These restaurant matchbooks, clearly lacking in design budget, are charmingly basic in design. With little space they get to the point, perhaps with the help of a slogan or simple graphic, serving as a multi-purpose business card.

In recent years there has been a bit of a resurgence in restaurants using matchbooks, despite the smoking bans. These days, fancy artwork is a must – most are taken as mementos with the average matchbook-giving restaurant getting through 20,000 books a year.

Sources/further reading:
DD Bean
NY Times interview with Edward Horn (18/08/1985)