Bill's matchboxes

by Kate C
Publish date
7 July 2011
Comments (6)

Photographer David Paul sent me some proof sheets of several hundred Redheads matchbox lids that he photographed recently as part of the ongoing documentation of the museum's objects. They were collected during the 1950s to 1970s by Bill Boyd and form part of the William Boyd Childhood Collection, which includes most of the Bill's childhood possessions. Bill was an avid collector, and fortunately for us, his mother Lillian kept his collections long after Bill had grown up.

Like David, I think the illustrations on the matchboxes are beautiful and fascinating snapshots of the time. There are several sets – marine creatures, native animals, famous explorers, Queensland's centenary (1959), history of transport and flags of the world, mythology and more. Redheads are now made in Sweden but back then were made by Bryant and May (or Brymay). Brymay was an English company that began manufacturing locally in 1909 in a factory in Cremorne, Richmond.

Redheads matchboxes - marine animals Six Redheads matchbox lids featuring marine animals, circa 1966. Top L-R: California Sandhopper, Bushy-backed Sea Slug, Long-finned Squid. Bottom L-R: Portuguese Man-of-war, Sandworm, Gooseneck Barnacles.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria

Special packaging, swapcards and bonus toys are a marketing idea that has proved successful for years. Pester power is nothing new; children badger their parents to buy a certain brand of tea, breakfast cereal or matches so that they can complete the set. In the pre-war mania of cigarette card collecting, there are stories of kids who would wait outside shops and pounce on emerging adults to beg for the cards from their newly-purchased pack of smokes.

Bill Boyd's matchboxes started me thinking about the nature of children's collections. Lots of kids collect things – stamps, coins, swapcards – but why? I know a family where each child was charged with nominating something to collect so they'd have something to keep themselves amused on road trips. Another colleague collected stamps and reckons his mother introduced him to the hobby so he'd learn about geography and organisation. And why do some people continue their collections while others abandon them? I collect entirely different things now than I did as a kid, but that probably reflects financial independence.

Six Redheads matchbox lids Six Redheads matchbox lids from the 1970 series featuring icons from each Australian state. Top L-R: The legend of Ned Kelly, Australian Rules Football, Cultural Centre (NGV). Bottom L-R: Myer Music Bowl, Native Lyrebird, The Golden Past, Bendigo.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria

I wonder how Bill got so many matchboxes? Perhaps he swapped them at school or family friends saved them for him. I imagine he didn't have much money to buy what he wanted and matchboxes were free and readily available. When smoking was more popular and before the invention of disposable cigarette lighters, there were probably matches in every pocket.

For Bill, perhaps they were important because they were objects that no one else controlled – no one else chose them on his behalf, or could tell him how to arrange or store or preserve them. These sorts of things are very important when you're a powerless kid and grown-ups dictate almost everything about your world.

What did you collect when you were a kid? How did your collection start? Do you still have it? Perhaps you'd like to upload it to Collectish?


William Boyd Childhood Collection

Tom Smith's complete Redheads matchbox collection 

History of Redheads matches

Comments (6)

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I have over 200 empty boxes from the early 1970s are you interested 31 March, 2012 00:15
my dad's from when he arrived in oz 1967 to when he gave up smoking in 1970? when my brother was born. all filled with shells from our travels as kids. mostly very good condition
Discovery Centre 31 March, 2012 10:10
Hi there, all donation offers to the museum need to be made in writing with accompanying images and provenance information, via our Ask the experts Donations page.
Adam 18 August, 2012 17:38
i have a 1960 olympic Rome redheads matches box which contained 47 matches is this a rare find
Leighton Passant 12 May, 2016 16:16
BRYMAY 'Redheads' Corporate flag, I have one which adorned their Church Street, Cremorne, Richmond factory. I believe their name was streamlined in the early sixties, have you any idea, also what should I do with flag as I imagine they would have had more than one?
Marc 20 March, 2017 00:59
i recently found a matchbox made by BRYMAY , but they are green headed matches , the box has an Australian military logo on the front , it has a kangaroo, crossed swords and a crown in yellow/gold ink on a Khaki green background , i was wondering what is known about them , i googled to see if i could find a match but found nothing , so i ended up here , can you tell me anything about them?
Discovery Centre 22 March, 2017 12:50
Hi Marc, 

Matchbox collecting is a very specialised area, but one that we  do not have much expertise in. We encourage you to contact the Australian Match Cover Collectors' Society for assistance.
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