When you go to a fancy restaurant or stay at a resort hotel, do you pick up a matchbook or box of matches and put it in your pocket to use later? Even people who don't smoke or use matches will often pick up a matchbook as a souvenir, especially if the matchbook has a lovely or intriguing cover or a logo of the place it came from. There are people who have huge, impressive collections of different items related to matches―matchbooks, matchbox covers, match strikers, individual matches, and so on. If you are one of the many people who enjoy collecting matchbook-related items, then you are a phillumenist.
People started collecting matchbooks when matches first were collected into matchbooks, but there was no specific name for the practice. Marjorie Evans, a British matchbook collector who was the president of the British Matchbox Label & Booklet Society, coined the word 'phillumenist' in 1943. Some matchbook collections actually include chemical matches, which were produced much earlier than the modern friction matches we use today. After WWII, there were many match manufacturers who issued special sets of matchbook covers not intended for advertising, specifically geared toward phillumenists.
By the 1960s, the hobby of phillumeny grew especially popular, as society became more interested in visiting exotic places and finding new ways to advertise them. But in the 1980s, with the introduction of cardboard match boxes, the hobby began waning. Collectors were disappointed with the quality of the new style matchboxes because the images on them were not as distinct and colorful, the print was of poorer quality, and they were clearly designed for straightforward advertising without as much design and flair.
As matchbooks and matchboxes became more functional and less artistic, modern matches became less interesting to collect, but the hobby of phillumeny steadily became more appealing. The reason for the heightened interest is probably that the matchbook covers from decades ago were made a long time before computers and modern printing methods began churning out ordinary matchbooks. Before the cardboard boxes, advertisers went to elaborate lengths to describe their products artistically, and each tiny cover of a matchbook was a tiny piece of art. So collections grew to include not just modern specimens of match-related items, but also collections dating back to the 1820s, when modern matches were first introduced. Phillumenists in different countries tend to collect different types of items, and they also collect match holders and strikers that aristocrats carried matches in over a century ago. Some phillumenists specialize in a certain era or type of item, while others build more general collections.
Thanks to the Internet, phillumenists around the world now have a place to gather and share information, personal stories, and galleries of their collections. These public forums have also resulted in more people becoming interested in the hobby. There were only 7 websites dedicated to phillumeny in 1998, but a decade later there are more than 100 such sites. As long as there are matches and matchbooks, there will be phillumenists.