Boston Public Library

Boston Matchcovers Collection

The matchbook covers included in Boston Public Library’s collection date from approximately 1940 to 1975. Intended as souvenirs, the majority of designs feature images of well-known buildings and monuments in Boston or advertisements for restaurants.

The matchbook was patented in the 1890s by John Pusey, a Pennsylvania lawyer, who sold the patent outright to the Diamond Match Company in 1896. Soon after the sale, the matchbook became hugely popular as an advertising giveaway. The first crudely printed example of its use -- a matchbook cover designed to promote a New York Presentation of the Mendelssohn Opera Company -- appeared in 1898.

The Diamond Match Company’s first big order of 10 million matchbooks for the Pabst Brewing Company is said to have started the matchbook industry. The popularity of matchbooks grew with the spread of public smoking. Matchbooks were placed on tables for diners in restaurants, hotels, and dining cars in trains. Beyond their use as advertisements for dining venues and commercial products, matchbooks often were used as promotional materials in political campaigns.

Some of the language and imagery used in the designs show long-standing class and cultural biases. The matchbook collection is presented as an accurate historical picture of the matchbook industry. For further information, please see the Digital Commonwealth Statement on Offensive and Harmful Content. If you have questions or comments about images, language, or other content you consider harmful, or if you have questions or comments about our policies, please contact us at

Locations in this Collection: