Around The World In 80 Matchboxes

Phillumeny (also known as Phillumenism) is the hobby of collecting different match-related items, such as matchboxes, matchbooks, match covers etc.

As Covid 19 continues to prevent any thoughts of travelling, I decided to relive some travel experiences of the past, but rather than scroll through tons of photos, I have another ‘aide memoire’ of my journeys of yesteryear.

Back in the early 70’s when I was barely a teenager, my cousin Pat spent a few months in the US as an au-pair, and on her return she showed me her amazing collection of matchboxes that she had acquired throughout her time there. I had no idea that hotels, restaurants, bars and even shops could have their own unique matchboxes (or matchbooks), that were freely available, I’d only ever seen the matchboxes that were typically used by smokers, bought from newsagents. I was transfixed by these small, colourful souvenirs, each representing a location in the far off USA, and I made it my mission to start my own collection as soon as I was able to.

Of course at that age, I wasn’t frequenting establishments that would have had matchboxes available, but the desire to start my collection remained with me, and I began in earnest a few years later as I started to travel overseas, initially on family holidays, then as the years passed, it became both holidays and business trips. During a period of about 30 years from the mid 1970’s to the early 2000’s, I collected matchboxes and matchbooks from wherever I came across them; mostly from hotels and restaurants; it is a collection that I still have today, some 250 items – they represent wonderful memories of past travel experiences, and best of all, these souvenirs didn’t cost a penny 🙂 In more recent times, I have pretty much stopped adding to my collection, primarily because as a non-smoker, I seldom find myself in locations where complimentary matchboxes are available due to all the changes that have taken place with respect to where you can and can’t smoke, and also with all the moving around that we have undertaken in the past few years, it’s a bit awkward having to pack up and ship a few hundred matchboxes! – Please join me as I journey through my past, I’ve selected 80 matchboxes, that encompass 28 countries, and tell a few stories.

My journey opens in Spain in 1975 with the first matchbooks in my collection; these were from a family holiday that summer, in the resort town of Lloret de Mar – probably the first nightclubs that I ever went to!

Next up is another first – my first visit to the USA, which was for a holiday that I took in 1976 with my friend Jon Gardiner. Using our ‘staff travel’ privileges, we spent 2 weeks crossing the US, from Miami to Los Angeles and San Francisco. I had been so excited about travelling to the US, and I have a vivid memory of my first night there, at the Miami International Airport hotel – this matchbook said it all, yes I had arrived!

OK, one photo – yours truly at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, taken during the 1976 trip.

Fast forward to 1983, when my business travel began – one of the first places that I visited was Sana’a in Yemen. I travelled there several times during 1983/4 and these 2 matchbooks are very special to me, as they are from the hotels that I stayed at during those trips. With the civil war that has torn the country apart over the past 5 years, I wonder what has become of these wonderful places, and all of the friends that I made during my time there.

Back to the US – since that first visit in 1976, I have been back many times both for business and holidays; these are some of the places I have visited. A couple of highlights are The Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, a wonderful resort hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii, where I spent just one night, as a stopover on a rather long journey; and The Wyndham Hotel at Greenspoint, which is in Houston Texas. I spent numerous nights there during the mid 80s, whilst working at British Caledonian. It was whilst staying here that I first experienced TGI Fridays, as their famous red and white stripes were located next door to the hotel. This was a time when I first discovered ‘Happy Hour’ and that the TGIF bar staff and waiters were more like performers and entertainers, it was always a really unique dining experience (one that I feel they have lost in more recent times).

Whilst in the area, let’s pay a visit to Canada – the late 80’s took me to Toronto several times, although I didn’t seem to collect many matches.

Island life – there are times in my career when I’ve felt ‘this is a dirty job, but someone has to do it’, never more so than when I visited these places; Guam, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and The Bahamas.

Asia maybe my favourite continent, so many fascinating places, and usually great weather! My first trip there was to Hong Kong, followed by Taipei in Taiwan, and later a short stay in Beijing.

Singapore has been another frequent work venue over the years; my first visit there was in 1988.

10 years later, and Asian trips were mainly to Jakarta, Indonesia; such a vibrant city, with so many great places to relax after those long days in the office!

Before we leave Asia, a few other places of note – Mumbai, India. I stayed many times at The Leela, and regularly enjoyed a beer or two in hotel’s ‘Cyclone Club’. Also here are matchbooks from Melbourne, Australia and Manila, Philippines.

Africa has been the source of some great experiences; my first visit was in 1978 for a safari in Malawi, although sadly I don’t have any matchboxes from that trip – however, here are a few from subsequent trips. These matchbooks are from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Lusaka and Livingston in Zambia (Musi O Tunya is a resort on the Zambian side of the Victoria Falls, a stunning place to spend a working week!), and Nairobi, Kenya.

Moving on to the Middle East – although I have spent a great deal of the past 15 years in this area, these matches are from early visits, when I didn’t realise how much of my time would be spent here. In addition to Yemen, those earlier visits were to Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. My favourite here is the one from The Irish Village, from my first visit to Dubai in 1999. I’ve returned there numerous times since, and never fail to have a great time!

I stayed at the Dhahran International hotel during my first ever trip to Saudi Arabia, back in 1986 – and then returned some 20 years later, when the hotel had a display of scud missile debris from nearby, that had been shot down by US Patriot missiles during the first Gulf War – I’m so glad the hotel survived!

Heading back home, let’s visit a few places in Europe, starting with Sweden – the early 90’s regularly took me to both Stockholm and Gothenburg; great times, but incredibly expensive beers!

Other trips to Europe include Hamburg and Cologne in Germany, Paris France, Geneva Switzerland and Nicosia Cyprus.

Which brings us back home – if you’re keeping count that’s 78 matchboxes so far, so for the final 2, it seems only right to include the UK:

I’m so grateful to cousin Pat for inspiring me to begin this collection, it’s been great to have this ability to look back and treasure some wonderful memories. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have travelled so much, and I’m hoping there is more to come once things get back to something like normal.

2 thoughts on “Around The World In 80 Matchboxes

  1. Well, i thought i’d travelled a lot, but mainly for pleasure, I used to be a real souvenir collector of item of places I’d visited……now between Ali and I, we just collect Christmas Tree Baubles, easy to pack away and only get out once a year, great hearing about ventures abroad

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