With its rectangular and pocket-friendly form, a matchbox reminds one of a popular contemporary object: the smartphone. Apart from physical similarities, the two also have much in common in the world of advertising. Even before the proliferation of smartphones led to the popularity of “mobile advertising,” matchboxes plastered with advertisements once offered an affordable and portable means of marketing too.
Known as “advertising matches,” these petite boxes — which included matchbooks that flipped open from the top instead of sliding apart like a drawer in a matchbox — first and foremost provided a functional need. In a time when lighters and gas appliances had yet to become commonplace, they supplied an everyday necessity to light up a fire. Such was the case in Singapore prior to the 1980s, when households commonly used matches to light up oil lamps or charcoal stoves. The matchboxes that contained this essential good thus promised to reach a wide audience, and businesses eagerly advertised on boxes that were given away to potential customers.
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BY JYNI ONG
The Singapore Graphic Archive is a visual treat for any design enthusiast. Founded in 2011 by Justin Zhuang, the archive is a treasure trove of vintage Singaporean design created before the 2000s. The entire archive, in its web and Instagram form, is solely down to Justin’s interest in his country’s design history.
After writing a book titled Independence: The History of Graphic Design in Singapore since the 1960s, Justin compiled his research into the archive. Collecting material from interviewees, old newspapers, publications and more, the archive highlights beautiful design from matchboxes to bus times guides uncovering Singapore’s rich layers of history, from its colonial past to its economically prosperous present.
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