Back in the ’50s and ’60s, people were really into these little gag gifts. They’d pick them up at the Five and Ten, or at joke shops, or for the racier stuff at dirty book stores. They were often usable (like matches) and made great conversation pieces sitting on a bachelor pad’s coffee table or swinger’s corner cocktail bar.
If you click on the pix you can see a larger version where you can read the kookie stuff printed on them. I think my favorite is Alcoholics Unanimous, for obvious reasons. And of course there’s the Opium Den, The Golden Navel Dance Hall, and Mabel’s House of Ill Fame. There’s loads of puns built into these beauts if you look hard enough. Lots of laughs at the cocktail party, great conversation pieces.
I have a few of these goodies, but by far my favorite is the “Very Important Places” Matchbook set. I found these at an antique mall/junk shop in Smithville, NJ about 15 years ago or so. The story of finding them is interesting in itself…the antique mall was located in a very old building (I believe it was over a hundred years old, or at least the owners wanted you to think that) that had been the site of a famous restaurant, the Quail Hill Inn for years. This restaurant was part of the Historic Towne of Smithville, which dated back to colonial days. The entire town was made up of either original 200 year-old buildings or shops made to look that old. The Quail Hill Inn was supposed to look like an inn from the Revolutionary War era, but was actually more on the fun and campy side, sporting 1970’s signs and tea kettles and furniture made to look like they were old, etc etc (you get the picture). The restaurant closed sometime in the late ’70s or early ’80s, and the building was used for storage until someone got the idea to turn it into an Antiques center.
The building was huge, and included room after room of wide-plank hardwood floors, 6×6 rafters and real wood-panel walls. It had that sort of dark, 1970’s feel to it even in the ’90s, even with fluorescent lighting. The best part was that some of the rooms still had signage from the old restaurant, including old-west style signs for the bathrooms and cashier. In a few places there were still pieces of restaurant equipment being stored, like a popcorn machine from the 1950’s. In between all of this were probably around 70 different dealers, selling everything from fine china to records to toy cars to collectibles of all sorts. It was more like a museum than a store, and was a lot of fun to walk around, soaking up the ambiance of the 1970s-era, surrounded by furniture, knick-knacks and all kinds of fun stuff from the past. I found these in a case, marked $17.00 and begging to be discovered. I guess no one else knew what they were (the box was closed) but I recognized them right away. I didn’t even try to haggle the price – at 17 clams they were a steal, especially in the pre-web & pre-eBay days when you found stuff like this by luck.
I remember that day like it was last Saturday (a little fuzzy but still there). Agroup of friends from my dinner theater and I went to Smithville and made a day of it. I not only got the matches that day, but picked up a 1930’s tenor sax for 90 bucks. We drove there in my 1953 Chevy (still stock and painted seafoam green at the time) and had lunch at the Carousel Grille. The building that the antique mall was in closed a few years later, and was torn down (it’s an empty field now, used for overflow parking), and the Carousel Grille (where we performed some of our best shows) closed and is now a candy shop. It’s a little saddening to think I’ll never be able to go back, but at least I have the memories.