Copyright 2017 - Checker Car Club of America, Inc.
Nathan Willensky is an avid collector of taxi memorabilia. His collection includes a large number of specialty matchbooks, including this extremely interesting one depicting the then new 1928 Checker Model K cab.
The first matchbook was introduced in 1829 and is an American invention. In Europe, matches packaged in boxes (small and large) with affixed labels were the norm. People who collect these incendiary objects are known as phillumenists.
This particular Checker K matchbook is a great find for all those who love Checker cars. Unfortunately, and according to Mike Prero (a recognized matchbook expert), it has little value and would also not be of much interest to any serious phillumenist. Why? Because somewhere along the way the strike plate was cut off (bobtailed)!
Matchbook collectors are not necessarily interested in the matches themselves. This is why the typical staple and the matches are removed and the remaining paper cover flattened. When intact, the matchbook looks like this:
For the Model K matchbook, the drawing of the car would have been on the back and the "New Checker Cab" drawing on the front cover. The "Union Quality" tag line would tuck under the black match strike plate.
According to Mike Prero, the dimensions of the matchbook are slightly larger than the 'standard' size which was introduced around 1937. The need for standardization was the development of vending machines which could not accommodate multiple sizes.
Since the matchbook states that the Model K is "New," it's more than likely that the matches were ordered by Checker in early 1929. However, this is not a hard and fast fact. The time-period, however, fits nicely with the existence of the Union Match Company between 1926 and 1938.
Union Match - 51st Avenue West and Roosevelt St., Duluth, Minnesota
The order for the matches would have been placed with Union Match at their Duluth, Minnesota headquarters. It is likely, however, that the matches were actually produced at their plant in Hudson, New York or Spokane, Washington. Union Match was a subsidiary of Federal Match Company of Delaware.
The Model K Checker was introduced in 1928 but production did not really pick up until 1929.
The photo above nicely aligns with the car depicted on the matchbook.
Tracing production figures during the early years of Checker Motors is fairly difficult. Not only are any figures hard to come by, but in some cases multiple but conflicting numbers pop up. This is certainly the case for the Model K where one source claims that over 5,000 were built in just six months of 1929. This is hard to believe considering that less than 3,000 Model G Checkers were built the previous year.
The production figures are noted here because the purpose of the matchbooks was to elicit interest in the new taxi. Of course, it is impossible to know how much influence they had on actual sales. In hindsight, however, it is interesting that Checker used multiple modes of advertising in the early years. As we know from historic documents, Checker was never able to invest large sums on marketing and advertising.
The exterior design of this matchbook is certainly striking (no pun intended) given that it is about 90 years old. When the matchbook was opened, a second design became visible. In our case, unfortunately, the slogan on the top inside flap is badly damaged. The reader is thus challenged to decipher what the entire text says. The rate emblem below the slogan would, of course, have been hidden behind the matches but would reveal themselves as the matches were removed and used.
Above is a slightly larger depiction of the inside matchbook cover. Readers are welcome to figure out what the entire slogan states.
Today, it is hard to know if Checker made use of matchbooks as an advertising tool before or after this one. Finding out will require more research and most likely enlist the help of phillumenists who specialize in vehicle (and especially taxi) depictions. Readers are encouraged to provide the Checker Car Club with leads.