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Matchbox label

Matchbox label

  • Place of origin:

    Sivakasi (made)

  • Date:

    20th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Offset printed paper

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Indian matchbox covers form part of India’s vibrant popular visual culture. These small boxes, sold for a few pence, are bold and colourful, some simple and naïve, others more complex and detailed. The images range from gods and goddesses, women, flowers, fruits, monuments, transport, tools, consumer goods and more. Successful covers are continuously copied and there can be endless variations of one particular image produced by rival companies. Many covers have a ‘retro’ feel about them because of this copying process, this also makes them difficult to date. Despite their ephemeral nature, they can convey historical, political and social information. Matchbox art dates back to the 1920s when India began producing its own matches from factories in Calcutta in Bengal and Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu. Prior to this, matches were imported from Europe, mainly Sweden, and Japan. Early images reflect themes of nationalism while more recent images include planes, motorcycles and trucks.

Colour matches are also known as Bengal matches which are closer to a firework or sparkler rather than a match, in that they produce a relatively long-burning, coloured flame. The majority of labels for Bengal matches are produced using single colour printing on a variety of coloured paper.

Physical description

Matchbox label for ‘Colour Matches’. To the left of the design is a black eagle with wings outstretched atop a round rock containing the word ‘Eagle’ in beige. On the right hand side is the text ‘Colour Matches made by Kannan Matchworks Sivakasi’, filling the whole right side of the label, all in black. There is a broken line with a diamond shape in the middle at the bottom of the text. The whole design set against a beige ground and is enclosed within two thin black borders.

Place of Origin

Sivakasi (made)


20th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Offset printed paper


Height: 36 mm, Width: 53 mm

Descriptive line

Matchbox label for ‘Colour Matches’, Sivakasi, India, 20th century


Printed paper



Subjects depicted



Labels & packaging


South & South East Asia Collection

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