Bitten by the matchbox bug

Most of us must have come across philatelists (who collects postage stamps as a hobby), numismatists (coins and papermoney collectors) and deltiologists (post card ­collectors). Well, I am a phillumenist. ­Phillumeny refers to the hobby of collecting matchbox labels. It is not half as popular as stamp and coin ­collecting. My collection of matchbox labels exceeds 8,000 on various themes.

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Matchboxes were an integral part of every household before the advent of lighters, though they still hold pride of place in rural kitchens, places of worship and in a man’s pocket to light a cigarette or beedi.

The production of handmade matchboxes was started in 1923 in Tamil Nadu at Sivakasi, then at ­Sattur in 1924 and later in 1932 in ­Kovilpatti. The first matchboxes in India were made in 1912 in ­Kolkata by Japanese traders, but today Sivakasi is the largest producer in India.

Matchbox labels are an ­expression of popular art or they commemorate events that go down in history. Panjah and Janata labels carry the sentiments of the ­Congress and Janata parties. Portraits of ­royalty, freedom fighters and even replica of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings have featured in the labels.

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At the end of the First World War labels printed in countries such as Japan, Sweden and Australia were pasted on the Indian matchboxes.

I started collecting matchbox labels as a schoolboy, continuing it for 30 years now. The hobby has often embarrassed and angered my family members as I would dig into garbage dumps or heaps of ­household waste hoping to find one more matchbox label to add to my impressive collection.

Much later, my family realised that I’m not alone; there are many more phillumenists world over who are crazy about this hobby. All those who scorned my habit of picking up matchboxes from garbage dumps, are now helping me with interesting labels that they come across.

I am planning to organise an exhibition of my collection soon to attract children and adults to this hobby. With better awareness the day is not far when many more ­phillumenists will emerge. Let the tribe thrive.

The writer is past president of Rotary Allahabad South, D 3120.

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