No one can match him

Unique Hobbies

Proud possession: Kaushik's collection of matchbox covers. This phillumenist, who’s been collecting matchbox covers for the last thirty odd years, admits to finding some of his prized specimens in the most disreputable areas — the gutters in front of cigarette shops, for instance. However, grubbing around in the muck can sometimes pay off. Kaushik now boasts of a collection of 1,118 matchbox covers from all over the world.

The collection was started by his grandfather and Kaushik was introduced to it at the tender age of ten. Now, he possesses about 35 years worth of matchbox covers. They are carefully laminated into three large volumes, and now that Kaushik has started on the fourth, nothing gives him greater pleasure than adding to the pages.

“The funniest thing about this hobby is that when people see me bending over and picking up dirty matchboxes from the road, they think I’ve gone mad,” he laughs. His wife, Aparajita, has also become an avid matchbox collector. “The first time my wife saw this, she was surprised, since I don’t smoke. But she’s started helping me spot a lot of matchboxes now,” he explains proudly.

His laminated volumes are a treat to go over; the earliest matchbox cover he has is a small, wooden specimen that cost 13 paise. He also has a series of star-studded covers, including ones with cartoons of Hema Malini, Sridevi and Amitabh Bachchan. “I’m sure they didn’t know they were featured on matchboxes,” he says, adding, “today, it would probably be considered a violation of their rights, but it didn’t matter in the olden days.”

He also has matchbox covers with cars on them, including the Maruti 800 and the Contessa. Other notables from his collection include a series of matchboxes that commemorated India’s 1987 World Cup win, green and silver match leaves from New Jersey, and some with cartoons of the Egyptian pyramids on them. Some even have snippets of history printed on them, like information about the Easter Islands and Stone Henge.

“Matchboxes have changed so much over the years. The earlier ones used to be made of wood, like this one with a ‘koyal’ on it. These are the ones my grandfather started collecting, and they’re probably my favourite. Then came the carbonised matches, and now we have the really small wax matches,” Kaushik explains. He adds that although he doesn’t keep any duplicates, he does have a few variations of the same matchbox.

“Because printing technology wasn’t that good earlier, matchboxes of the same brand might have some differences. In these cases, I collect all the variations,” he says.

He began laminating his collection very recently, on the suggestion of a friend. “Earlier, I used to keep all of them in a box. This is the way my grandfather kept the matchbox covers too. But they can get spoilt easily; one shouldn’t keep them anywhere near dampness, and they have to be kept away from the sun as well. Otherwise, they start fading and blackening. One of my friends pointed this out to me, and when I realised that the collection could get damaged I had them all laminated,” he says.

Kaushik believes that phillumeny is an easy hobby to maintain in general. “Firstly, one doesn’t have to pay a lot of money to get matchboxes. And it’s even easier in India, because people here are in the habit of tossing match boxes on the roads,” he says. He also has specimens from other countries, like America, France, South Africa and Australia.

“I haven’t personally been to all these places, but people who know of my collection bring me matchboxes when they travel,” he explains proudly.

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