Once having studied graphic design I find the history of printing and advertising fascinating. There are all sorts of ephemera that I collect, old business cards, shop receipts, tins, and matchboxes. The woodcuts and early lithographic designs are artworks to their own.
Matchbox designs, being on small cheap items, vulnerable to the customer’s whim, often reflected almost uncannily the attitudes of their age, long before these attitudes could be recognised or analysed. †
Matchbox labels first appeared in 1829 and every conceivable idea was used to illustrate them. By the middle of the nineteenth century the collection of these often colourful and decorative little pieces of design had become a European craze. The early labels were printed by letterpress with woodcut designs, but soon chromolithography was also being used. †
These box labels are mostly from the English and Indian collections, but there are hundreds of other examples.
† David Gentleman – Designs In Miniature, 1972