Found in a copy of the October 1936 issue of The Collector’s
Miscellany is this account of fanatical collector Major A Beckett, who many times risked his life for a matchbox label:
‘ He states that as a boy of 8 whilst riding in a tramcar he dropped his ticket. Bending down to search for it he found an unusual match-box. This interested him, and there and then he commenced to collect match-box labels, having now accumulated a collection of over 25,000 different varieties. He remarked that on several occasions he has been nearly run over whilst picking them up in the gutter. During the War, whilst in the Piccadilly Tube, he saw a matchbox label lying on the line. He jumped down to secure it but a policeman came and arrested him on a charge of attempted suicide. Whilst at the Police Station he was examined by a Doctor, and it was only when they rang up his Army Headquarters that he was able to establish his identity. Part of his collection was presented him by the late King of Siam, who more than once was run over while searching for labels. The Major recently made the acquaintance of Mr Burnell, the proprietor of a Weymouth hotel, who owns a collection of 27,000 different labels. Mr Burnell offers any figure for the rare Indian label of the Crucifixion. Only a few copies of this label, which we illustrate on this page, were ever printed, as the design was almost immediately suppressed’. ( p 66).
Born in 1880 and a lineal descendant of the archbishop who was assassinated, Patrick A’ Beckett apparently lost his wife in 1919 ( possibly a victim of the post-war flu epidemic) after only twelve years of marriage and may have taken up collecting matchbox labels to assuage his grief. At any rate, he advertised regularly in Collectors’ Miscellany, along with many others philluminists and dealers. Indeed, if the space given to the hobby is any indication, it would seem that in 1930’s Britain and the US, collecting matchbox labels was almost as popular as stamp collecting. By 1953 the society composed of collectors had 600 members.
Incidentally, it is equally possible that at about the same time in America William Sidis (’ the most intelligent man in the world ‘, see Bookride ), frequently put his own life in danger in pursuit of his own hobby of collecting tram transfers. [R.M.Healey]