Wooden Matchstick Holder

- jim Young

“I ain’t got no matches, but I got a long way to go.” - Carl Perkins

When my parents first built their cottage on Gibson Lake in the early 1950s it was just a one room cabin. Highway 69 or even “Highway 103” or the “400 extension” as it was named in its early days, didn’t exist. So it was over an hour drive from Stroud, up Highway 11 to Bala and over dirt back roads to Sahanatien’s Landing at the north end of the lake. From there we rode by boat to the bay our cottage was on, half way between Sahanatien’s and “the narrows”.

Next to sufficient supplies of food and water, probably the single most important thing to have on hand was matches.

We needed matches to light the campfire, the wood stove when it was cold, the coal oil and naphtha lanterns when it got dark and in later years even the propane fridge and cook stove, not to mention the cigarettes that my parents enjoyed in an era when just about everyone smoked.

I remember matches often being used to test for gas levels in a dark gas can for the boat or propane leaks after switching out an empty 100 lb propane gas tank. Yikes! It’s hard to believe my father was Deputy Fire Chief at the time!

Pictured here is the match stick holder used at my parents’ cottage during that time. I believe the smaller holder directly beneath the apples was used to hold penny matches. That was during a time when penny matches not only cost just a penny, pennies still existed to buy them with.

But, They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To

The wooden matches used then were far superior to most wooden matches available today. Although safety matches have been around since the 1800s, the “strike anywhere” wooden matches were still readily available in the 1950s and probably preferred by the type of people who would use a match to check gas levels and propane leaks. 

Even though the box that wooden matches came in usually featured a striker on both sides, these matches didn’t require a special abrasive strip to light the match. They could be lit on any hard surface such as a rock, a log, the top of the woodstove, the wall or even a fingernail or tooth. Sometimes just striking two match heads together, even gently, would ignite a match and if done unintentionally, it might just light a whole box at once like a single match dropped into a box of fireworks. Yes, my father did that one year as well but what a display that was. Short… but sweet!

I wish those wooden “strike anywhere” matches were still available today. You just can’t make a good stink bomb out of 2 matches and a ballpoint pen anymore. But aside from that, it’s also difficult to make a claim that you can start a fire with just one match when the first 2 or 3 break when striking them, or worse, they light and then the head falls off and flies across the room. And they call these “safety matches”?

Even the “strikers” on the sides of the match boxes are inferior and good for only about 100 strikes a side on a typical box of 250 matches. What am I supposed to do with 50 “safety matches” left over after my striker is worn out? Sure they’re made of wood, but it’s hardly enough to use as even kindling.

Yes, my friends… Those were the days.

- 30 -

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