Matchcovers are often considered a hobby for visual enjoyment but they, like postcards, can contribute to the historical narrative as well. This factor is often overlooked. For example, a series of postcards printed and distributed over the years from a Route 66 motel may allow a researcher to see the progression of owners/proprietors and the changing of features like the opening and/or closing of an on-premises café or gas station, or the addition of rooms or a swimming pool came to be. Matchcovers sometimes have much of the same information as postcards (but without the important picture, of course!). But matchbooks and matchcovers can make a much more comprehensive collection than postcards. Why? Well, most Route 66 businesses that had postcards for distribution had matchbooks too. But more importantly the reverse is not true. Whereas many motels offered both postcards and matchbooks, most other traveler-oriented businesses, like restaurants, cafes, and gasoline stations, only distributed matchbooks and they never offered postcards. In many cases the only way today to acquire a bit of history from these long-ago businesses is to acquire a matchbook or matchcover.
Let’s look at a few examples from famous businesses on Route 66 and see what matchcovers can tell us.
My first example is from the Dixie Trucker’s Home in McLean, IL where the earliest matchcover that we have found states that the business was first called the “Trucker’s Dixie Home” an early reference name that I can not find in any Route 66 book and on only a few websites.
A second example is from the famous Ariston Restaurant. It was begun by Pete Adam in Carlinville, IL, and everything that I have read states that when Route 66 moved to the east in about 1930, Pete Adam “moved” the business to Litchfield, IL. Well, to me “moving” means you close down one location and move the restaurant equipment, fixtures, seating, etc., to the new location. Almost every book that I have read and website that I have visited (I have not visited them all) uses some take on the verb “move.” Then why does the earliest matchcover we can find from the Ariston list two locations (Carlinville and Litchfield)? That matchcover is proof that both locations were once open at the same time. And speaking of the Ariston, what’s with the matchcover that says the “Boyd’s Ariston Restaurant”? Nearly every book and website declares that the business had been run by members of the founding Adam family until they sold it in 2018. As it turns out a local Illinois historian confirmed that the Boyd’s did lease and operate the Ariston for five years in the early 1960s.
A third example is from the famous Club Cafe in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Some websites say incorrectly it was opened by Philip Craig and Floyd Shaw in 1935. It was actually opened by Nute Epps that year. Other references indicate that Floyd Shaw and Phillip Craig acquired the property several years later from the Epps family. That’s true insofar as it goes but matchcovers reveal a more nuanced history. The oldest green matchcover from the Club Café indicates that the owner and proprietor was Nute Epps but the next one has two names on it: Nute Epps and Philip Craig. Perhaps they both co-owned it, or perhaps Mr. Epps owned the business and Mr. Craig was the manager: it is not clear. The next several matchcovers have both Philip Craig and Floyd Shaw’s names on them and this partnership last through halcyon era of Route 66. The point is that there seems to have been a transition from the Epps family ownership to Epps and Craig and then to the Craig and Shaw era of ownership.
So, beyond the obvious visual appeal of matchcovers, they may have historical research value too.