Utpal Sanyal, a cancer research scientist has a collection of 28,000 matchboxes and matchbook labels from both India and abroad. Matchboxes and labels from 1926 till 2014 are present in this philumenist’s kitty.
Mr Sanyal began collecting them from the early 70s. Ephemera collection is quite common in the west but not so in India. He also has the hobbies of collecting stamps, coins and bird nests. His collection comprises matchboxes manufactured in 105 countries. For example, he has in his collection eight matchboxes from France that are 11.5 inches in length, and from Germany and United Kingdom boxes that are 10 inches long. He has a 3D matchbox too, from Japan, while another from the US has matchsticks made of sandalwood. Matchboxes resembling buses, even double-decker ones, cars, houses, triangles and cylinders are part of his collection.
Some of the ‘Swadeshi’ matchboxes in his collection contain slogans on freeing the country. The British government used to seize these matchboxes. Some matchboxes carry awareness messages about diseases such as cancer and AIDS, others about issues such as blood donation, eye donation and the pulse polio campaign. Many companies and brands have made it to matchbook labels – Pepsi, Fanta, Thums Up, Pan Parag, Frooti, Parle, Nescafe, Vat 69, Kit Kat, Complan, Amul, to name a few. Matchboxes have embraced technology too – from logos of Windows and Apple to pictures of cellphones, TVs, camera and computers.
On 15 August 1947, a matchbox was sold that had the picture of a rising sun. The photographs of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi on matchboxes were once quite common.
There are matchbox series containing photographs of national leaders, sportspersons, and cinema and theatre personalities. It is interesting to note that Mr Sanyal’s collection has matchbox covers with the photographs of Uttam Kumar, Sachin Tendulkar and even Amitabh Bachchan when he was conducting the TV show Kaun Banega Crorepati. One matchbox displays the 1977 duel between Pele and Subrata Bhattacharya, when Cosmos played against Mohun Bagan in Kolkata in 1977.
Utpal Sanyal’s collections of matchboxes and labels: (L to R) Anti-smoking, anti-AIDS, promoting blood donation
Sanyal admits a debt of gratitude to people, known and unknown. He feels privileged to have got a gift of around 500 matchboxes collected by the writer Banaphul, gifted by the writer’s daughter. Many of the foreign matchboxes were sent by friends acquired through Facebook.
A unique three-day exhibition of around 5,500 matchboxes and matchbook labels was held in Kolkata last April, at Gaganendra Pradarshanshala. The exhibition was the first of its kind in the city. We can hope to see more exhibitions displaying Utpal Sanyal’s wonderful collection in the coming days.