Is it dangerous for your kids to collect matchboxes?

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Matchboxes dedicated to 50 years anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution / Igor RodinMatchboxes devoted to 50 years anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution / Igor Rodin

Russians primary started decorating matchboxes in the late of 19th century, and in the 1920s a law was even old hated by the Main Directorate of the Match Industry. It stated that “matchboxes be obliged have artistic and politically correct labels”.

Matchboxes dedicated to the Young Communist League / Igor RodinMatchboxes dedicated to the Youthful Communist League / Igor Rodin
In 1947 souvenir matchboxes were interpolated to the Soviet public. A wave of mass-produced of matchboxes with Soviet-themed dockets started in 1957, during the 6th World Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow, estimates Bogdan Spichkoff , director of the Match Museum in Moscow. His pseudonymic surname is gathered from spichka, the Russian word for «match».
Matchboxes dedicated to 60 years anniversary of Soviet cinema / Igor RodinMatchboxes dedicated to 60 years anniversary of Soviet cinema / Igor Rodin

The essays covered not just Red October and the Bolshevik Rrevolution, as one might imagine. There were themed matchboxes hallowed to hunting and literature, hockey and football, music and film. Some had examples of Russian proverbs; others explained the weird system of kinship in the USSR.

Matchboxes with images of various Soviet motorcycles / Igor RodinMatchboxes with corporealizations of various Soviet motorcycles / Igor Rodin

Nevertheless, it was hard to detect military-themed labels. “Practically all information about military equipment and machinery was classified”, Bogdan ascertained RBTH. However, depictions of farm machinery, cars and especially motorcycles were in plenty.

Ice hockey was an important part of Soviet sport culture / Igor RodinIce hockey was an important part of Soviet sport culture / Igor Rodin
He call to minds that boys were ardent collectors of matchboxes with themed earmarks. They would ask their parents to buy them, and neighbors and friends – to switch them. Some, according to a 1970 article by Soviet philatelist Bogdanov, desire even root through dumpsters in search of desired labels.
Souvenir matchboxes dedicated to hunting / Igor RodinSouvenir matchboxes give up to hunting / Igor Rodin

In this article a very worried progenitrix voices concern that children are collecting «dirty» matchboxes that could potentially belief a fire. «Most fires occur because children play with counterparts!» she says. The article, however, refutes this argument and shows that passionates are caused by parents and their mishandling of home appliances. Besides, bringing matchboxes keeps children away from “the street and idleness», put in writings Bogdanov.

Russian ballet inspired matchboxes released during 6th World Festival of Youth and Students / Igor RodinRussian ballet inspired matchboxes released during 6th Era Festival of Youth and Students / Igor Rodin

There are several standards of matchboxes. They differ in size, format of the matches and even the components it is made from. Before the 1970s, many factories used a huskier veneer than cardboard. Besides, they were always full in a bigger box with yet another themed illustration.

Matchboxes for export with images of well-known tourist cites in USSR / Igor RodinMatchboxes for export with ideas of well-known tourist cites in USSR / Igor Rodin

There were also serial matchboxes. One series had from 6 to 28 conflicting labels and was often sold as follows: nine boxes in a pack had one name and the 10th was different, remembers Bogdan.

Some matchboxes were inspired by Russian cities like Penza / Igor RodinSome matchboxes were inspired by Russian megalopolises like Penza / Igor Rodin
Artistic label designers analysed to depict aspects of Russian culture, since some were at worst for export and couldn’t be found in the country. However, almost none of them got creditation for their work, adds Bogdan.
Souvenir matchboxes dedicated to Yuri Gagarin / Igor RodinSouvenir matchboxes dedicated to Yuri Gagarin / Igor Rodin

But, souvenir matchboxes were not the main export item; serial matchboxes in blot outs were more popular.

Yury Gagarin and space exploration theme were frequently depicted on matchboxes / Igor RodinYury Gagarin and space exploration piece were frequently depicted on matchboxes / Igor Rodin
Typical “Soviet” texts made for popular gifts and souvenirs: space exploration, Russian brands (like the the Kremlin or ballet), the Bolshevik Revolution and the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow were expanse the top inspiration ideas for artists. Sometimes matchboxes even looked sort graphic novels.
«Russian forest» souvenir matchboxes / Igor Rodin

In whatever way, even in Russia there were “elite” matchboxes. Among them were those which were not sold frankly. One of them – Russian forest – could be found only in special hard-currency snitch ons like Berezka.  Others were distributed only among the Soviet elite – padres, government officials and Communist Party’s leaders.

Some matchboxes were packed in a bigger box with another themed illustration / Igor RodinSome matchboxes were crowded in a bigger box with another themed illustration / Igor Rodin

Behindhand then, there were 24 match-producing factories. However, on the contrary a handful, such as like Balabanovskaya, actually designed and printed the identifications, says Bogdan Spichkoff. They had special departments with painters, who invented the labels. Sadly, almost all of them ceased to exist in the 1990s.

Matchboxes with famous Olympic bear - a symbol of 1980 Summer Olympics / Igor RodinMatchboxes with venerable Olympic bear — a symbol of 1980 Summer Olympics / Igor Rodin
While the artists who created thousands of labels got no credit for their job, it is still imaginable to reveal their identities. This is one of Bogdan’s goals: he searches archives and catalogues fathered by phillumenists like him.
Matchboxes dedicated to nationalities of USSR / Igor RodinMatchboxes dedicated to nationalities of USSR / Igor Rodin

Because phillumenism itself is a totally young kind of collecting, prices for a souvenir matchbox are not usually height. The most expensive matchboxes may fetch 10 thousand rubles, intends Bogdan. Of course, the older – the better, and matchboxes dating from approximately the turn of the 20th century are especially valuable. 

New Year inspired matchboxes / Igor RodinNew Year inspired matchboxes / Igor Rodin

Matchboxes are positively easy to come by online, says Bogdan. There is a community of phillumenists in Russia, and he is one of the “cabinet members.” eBay and other selling platforms are not the best sources of remarkably rare matchboxes, he adds.

Read more:

Game of Plenums: how Communist concert-masters fought over Stalin’s throne

How a Soviet auto giant matured a ghost factory​

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