Seller Stories: Matchbook Seller Turns Cardboard into Gold

By: Phil Dunn

Matt Klein loves the fiery passions of matchbook collectors. He’s made a career out of buying and selling matchbooks on eBay. Most of his purchases are of matches from 1960 or earlier, and he focuses on North American matchbooks (predominantly from the U.S.A, and occasionally from Mexico and Canada).

Not long ago, Klein sold an obscure 1930s Las Vegas nightclub matchbook for $250. That’s his highest priced sale to date.

“It had some Spanish senorita artwork on the cover,” said Klein, an eBay seller since 2005 located near Cleveland, Ohio. “It was the type of place you’d take your sweetheart out for dancing, drinking and dining.”

“The highest one I know of sold for $4,000,” continued Klein. Only 200 of these books were printed for a private party honoring Charles Lindbergh for his 1927 flight across the Atlantic. “It was a plain looking matchbook, but there were so few that survived.”

 

World War II Matchbooks

According to Klein, World War II matchbooks are a good niche. “I have huge amounts of World War II inventory from U.S. military bases,” he said. “They’re very patriotic. During World War II there were hundreds and hundreds of military bases in the U.S. Each base created a unique matchbook. Europeans as well as U.S. collectors love them.”

 

A Family Affair

Klein, his mother and his girlfriend all have eBay stores that sell matchbooks and other rare paper collectibles. The last couple of collections the trio purchased at estate auction went for $10,000 and $12,000. Klein has been selling on eBay for the past 10 years. His mom has been collecting and selling for 20 years, and his girlfriend has been selling on eBay for that past two years.

“You get better at it as you go along,” said Klein. “Matchbooks are a hit and miss proposition because the collectors pool is small. It’s an old guy market, or you can sell to historical societies and museums.”

Personally, Klein typically sells 500 to 1000 matchbooks every day. “I can list about 80 a day on my own and more with help,” he said.

 

Not a Collector

While Klein runs through hundreds of thousands of matchbooks every year, he’s personally not a collector. “I don’t collect anything,” he said. “I don’t have that gene in me that says hang on to this. Selling, however finances my life. It pays my rent, covers my groceries and gets me to NASCAR.”

There is one matchbook, however, that Klein would pay for. “My grandfather and grandmother had a five and dime store in Torrington, Connecticut called Chidesters. It’s an old brick building with a couple of floors and a basement. If I ever came across a matchbook from their store, I’d pay any amount of money for it.”

Klein used to work there, measuring out candy at the Woolworth’s-like counter and ditching work with his grandpa to go fishing in the afternoon.

 

Financing Dreams

As a birthday present, Klein took his mother to a Kentucky NASCAR event where she raced 150 mile an hour hot laps around the track.

“She’s a huge NASCAR fan,” he said. “Matchbooks allow me to do nice things for my family. We have no other income. We make great money between the three of us.”