Sat, Apr 27, 2013 - Page 5 News List

Matchboxes shine a light on the past

A STRIKING ARRAY:With more than 60,000 pieces, a Changhua man’s matchbox collection offers a rare peek into the many varieties of this once-popular collectible

By Yu Chao-fu and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

A miniature statue of Liu Wen-tsung, a character played by the actor Chin Yang in the popular drama Fiery Thunderbolt, is shown with a matchbox in the background as part of an exhibition at the YM Oceanic Cultural and Art Museum in Keelung on April 8.

Photo: Yu Chao-fu, Taipei Times

While some people use photographs to record a nation’s history, a man from Changhua County has sought to do so by collecting matchboxes.

“This is a miniature statue of TV drama character Liu Wen-tsung (劉文聰) holding a match and a can of gasoline, and that is [a matchbox] from a Japanese shipping company,” Chiang Min-chuan (蔣敏全) said as he showed off his collection of more than 60,000 matchboxes.

Chiang said his infatuation with matchboxes developed under the influence of his father, a salesman at the now-defunct Taiwan Match Co who had a collection of about 600 matchboxes.

“My father’s sizable collection passed down to me after his death, but at the time I considered myself merely as its keeper,” Chiang said.

However, things changed about a decade ago when he became interested in the field of cultural and historical research, and started collecting every matchbox he could find, whether it was new or manufactured some time ago.

“I would ask for as many matchboxes as I could, and would purchase those I could not get for free,” Chiang said, adding that his acquaintances contributed to his collection.

In the past, many businesses — from hotels, restaurants and nightclubs to corporations and civic organizations — would have their own custom-designed matchboxes, Chiang said.

“During the Lunar New Year holidays, some businesses even launched special-edition matchboxes featuring the Chinese zodiac animal of that year,” Chiang.

Chiang added that matchboxes featuring celebrities such as the late singers Teresa Teng (鄧麗君) and Fong Fei-fei (鳳飛飛) were also popular at the time.

One of Chiang’s most interesting pieces is the miniature statue of Liu Wen-tsung, a character played by the actor Chin Yang (秦楊) in the popular drama Fiery Thunderbolt, which aired from 2002 to 2003. Chin’s character was famous for tormenting his enemies by setting fires with gasoline and matches.

Chiang’s collection has also drawn the attention of the YM Oceanic Cultural and Art Museum in Keelung City’s Renai District (仁愛), a privately run museum founded in 2004 by Yangming Marine Transport Corp, the nation’s second-biggest container shipper.

Earlier this month, the museum invited Chiang to put some of his matchboxes on display, with the aim of allowing visitors to relive the nation’s history.

“Each matchbox represents a piece of national history, and offers a glimpse into the way our forebears used to live,” the museum said.

The exhibition, titled The Little Match Girl, features 600 of Chiang’s pieces, and runs until Tuesday.

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