How I collected 25,000 vintage Indian matchboxes

Collector's edition from Wimco. Boxed set of 12 matchboxes on Sun Signs.
Image caption This set featuring astrological signs from Wimco was a collector's edition

I have been collecting matchboxes seriously since 2012.

My sources include collectors all over the world, dealers, auctions, flea markets, and just about any place I can think of. The accumulation, as I like to call it, includes all kinds of material related to the Indian matchbox industry.

Within this rapidly growing accumulation, I often come across labels and subjects that I get curious about and that is how my collection takes a thematic approach.

My recent exhibition, titled "Matchbox Labels And The Stories They Tell", features some prominent trends and themes spanning the entire history of the matchbox industry.

I exhibited 5,000 labels from my collection of 25,000.

AE Matcheswala

AE Matcheswala was an early matchbox label which started using sulphur. It set up its factories in Mumbai in western Maharashtra and Khambhat (also known as Cambay) in Gujarat state, and continued to trade in matchboxes until after World War Two.

Ambarnath by Wimco

The company exported its matchboxes to Arab countries. Ambarnath, written in Hindi on this label, was the location of the first Wimco factory in western Maharashtra state. Very few Wimco labels used Indian languages and they did not last long. This rather drab label featuring the dhow is not one of their common brands.

Nationalist fervour

This label promoted the Swadeshi (self-reliance) movement during the partition of India's Bengal region in 1905. A number of Indian labels started during the independence struggle after calls were made to boycott British goods. Most firms used Indian languages to add nationalist fervour to their brands. Labels from the 1920s and 30s tell the story of India's struggle for freedom. Some labels even celebrated important personalities associated with the freedom movement.

Crest of the princely state of Bhavnagar

It's believed that this matchbox was commissioned by the royal family of Bhavnagar in western Gujarat state for their personal use during British rule. Little is known about such matchboxes because records were not kept at the time and little research is possible today.

Film connection

Many Bollywood films were promoted on matchboxes in the 1950s. Some labels even featured Pakistani films. Actors and film posters continue to be featured on matchboxes today.

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