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Prentice W. von Wettberg collection of matchbox labels

Identifier: M4051

Scope and Contents

The collection contains labels from many countries in addition to Japan, including Russia, Sweden, Estonia, Belgium, England, and the United States, among others. But the Japanese section is both the largest and most visually interesting and may have been Prentice von Wettberg's personal favorite, since he appears to have given it more care and arrangement.


  • Creation: circa 1890 - circa 1933

Historical note

Friction matches were invented by an English chemist, John Walker, in 1826. The first matchbox label was for Walker's own brand, "Friction Lights." But the first true, although crude label was designed and used by N. Jones and Company, Walker's chief rival, in 1830. As the manufacture of matches spread beyond England into many parts of the world, so too did the design of the box labels. By 1880 labels had become colorful or unusual enough that many collectors began to value them highly.

The Japanese were particularly successful in the match industry because of a wider availability of cheap labor than competing countries such as Sweden. Kobe was the main seat of the match industry in Japan, but other cities are occasionally seen on labels. Many of the matches were created for export, particularly to Southeast Asia and China, but some of the more interesting labels were for local markets only.


1.2 Cubic Feet (6 flat boxes)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection came to Colgate by way of a gift from Norman L. von Wettberg, class of 1969.

Guide to the Prentice W. von Wettberg collection of matchbox labels
Michelle Smith and Jazmin Pavon
January 2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Colgate University Libraries Repository

13 Oak Drive
Case Library and Geyer Center for Information Technology
Colgate University
Hamilton New York 13346 United States US
315-228-7934 (Fax)