By Monte Beauchamp
272 pages, softcover, $16.95, published by Chronicle Books, www.chroniclebooks.com
Oh, what fun! Between 1920 and 1950 there existed a miniscule but potent advertising and publicity outlet in the illustrated matchbook. The tiny, portable—and practical—messengers quickly became a ubiquitous staple in early P.R. campaigns as well as a frequent film prop (think of how much unintentional product placement there must have been).
Monte Beauchamp, founder and publisher of the “visual creativity annual” BLAB!, and author of the amusing and enlightening New & Used BLAB!, has gathered an exuberant collection of matchbook cover art—Technicolor, pre-pop morsels of color and movement from the whimsical to the bawdy. The layout is dynamic and intense: some of these images jump right out at the viewer. A brunette, nude from the waist, leans forward with a smile. Underneath is the phrase: Strike on rear. You get the picture. From nudes in champagne glasses (all very tame for the twenty-first century’s prevalent hip-hop images) to wartime entreaties to buy war bonds, every variety of matchbook is shown: clubs, restaurants, stores, a wide range of products and services available in those decades (some now faint memories). Remember Elsie the Cow? Piggly Wiggly? Some of the WWII-era matchbook covers remind me of those my father taped inside his scrapbooks from his Army service, or the ones my mother saved to remember family vacations.
Unfortunately, the practice of custom-printed matchbooks died out when anti-smoking groups fired up their own P.R. campaigns. Now there are only business cards to take away from most establishments. How dull. — Anne Telford