Matchbox Maker Calls it Quits, Effectively Extinguishing the Flames of an Era

all images courtesy Nittosha

Phillumeny–the practice of collecting matchboxes–is about to get a lot more difficult. Japan’s largest manufacturer of matchboxes, Nittosha, has announced that they’re shutting down their business line in June after fulfilling all existing orders.

Matchboxes used to be ubiquitous in Japan and at one point you could find them at the cash register of any cafe, bar or restaurant. They were free to grab and even if you weren’t a smoker like us, they made great mementos, especially when travelling. Establishments loved them because the matchboxes became walking advertisements.

Nittosha was founded almost 100 years ago in 1926 and began as a small match-maker. They offered their own brand of matches but where they really flourished was customized matchbooks for different brands and business.

But the tides of change sweep in, like they tend to do. In 2016 Kanematsu Sustech, a lumber company that had been producing matches since 1938, exited the business. And with Nittosha now following suit, the move effectively extinguishes the flame of an era. But don’t worry about the company. They’ve since diversified their business and produce things like tissues, hand towels and face masks, which have certainly been good for business lately.

And for collectors, the good news is that many of the wonderfully vintage designs are digitized and can be found online. One good place to start is this collection from the 1920s-1940s. If you would like something more tangible, try this book of Japanese matchbook labels.

2 Comments

  1. Phillumeny — I had not heard the word. Thank you! Something to Google now.

    We lived in Japan from 1972 till 1988 and “collected” the matchbooks from restaurants we visited. So not a special “collection”, but something to remember our stay in Japan by.

    I still have them. With matches inside. I didn’t know how to display them and left that for another day. So they’re still in a metal (hopefully fireproof) box.

    I now wonder whether someone might want to acquire these and how to go about contacting them. I can take pictures, obviously, when I find the box among my souvenirs and artwork. Probably there is little special in the bunch.

  2. List them on ebay, Larry.

    Showa era ephemera is collectible.

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