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Finding stories in matchboxes 

Monday, May 30, 2016,14:12 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

New Delhi | Collecting matchboxes is a hobby for many people, but for the 50-something-year-old Gautam Hemmady who is engaged in building an archive of sorts using matchbox labels, it means much more.

Hemmady, who has been fascinated with matchboxes ever since he was a child took to serious collecting from the year 2012 and has been engaged in accumulating an assortment of matchboxes, matchbox labels, wrapping packets, bags and carton labels as well.

It is a cheap hobby but not an easy one, says the collector who has put up an exhibition ‘Matchbox Labels and the Stories they Tell’ at the India International Centre here. I don’t know what actually inspired me to do so.

As far as I can think of, this was fascinating for me even as a boy. Important information is fading away because no one is preserving them. No one wants to study the stories in these matchboxes. I have so much data that I can even analyse how the package of the matchbox of a particular company changed with time, says Hemmady.

While he is unsure of the exact number of the matchboxes in his possession, he says it can be estimated to be some 25,000, much of which has been displayed. Each matchbox, he says, has a unique story to tell and not everyone maybe able to understand them.

The design and pattern of the various matchboxes are fascinating to serious hobbyists like Hemmady, whose collection of matchbox labels from the 1890s till the present date. To satisfy his growing interest, the city-based collector says he did a lot of research into piecing together the trends in the design and packaging of matchboxes.

For instance, he says, for the last 200 years the basic design of a standard sized matchbox has not changed and remained more or less the same. It is however, very difficult to collect information on the subject because manufacturers and dealers are not very forthcoming. I assume that they themselves do not have any record of this as the sector is small scale and highly unorganised, says Hemmady.

Certain things like why a matchbox brand ‘Three Mangoes’ is available only in the state of Andhra Pradesh or why there is a brand of matchboxes under the brand name ‘Ship’ exists when no state produces a ship in India, continue to baffle Hemmady. Among his collections are matchboxes that have a Bollywood actresses on its cover like pictures of present day Kareena Kapoor Khan to yesteryear ones like Suraiya. Matchbox labels were also used as a very good medium of advertisements.

Specially designed labels and brands were put out for sale as well as freely distributed with other products, says Hemmady. The collector says it is much more useful to spend on buying matchbox and matchbox labels rather than forking out Rs 2000 on a dinner or Rs 400 on watching movies.

You can cook a better quality food at your home in less than the amount you will spend in a food point and watch the movies on television after a month or so of their release. Meanwhile, the exhibition that opened on May 27 is set to continue till June 3 and is divided into different sections like mythology, art, architecture, the Swadeshi movement, film, advertising and messaging.

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