Early in the twentieth century, Ivar Kreuger, a match manufacturer and financier, managed to corner the match market. Through various deals, he ended up with the exclusive rights to sell matches in many countries, including most of Europe, but this monopoly was not enough for him. Back then, it was a common practice for two or three people to light their cigarettes from the same match. Ivar realized that if he could somehow keep that third person from using the match, he could greatly increase his sales, so he had his advertising department start the rumor that it was unlucky to light three cigarettes from the same match. Tales were told of dreadful things happening to the third person who used a match, like the bride who had been left at the altar and the soldier who was killed after each had lit a cigarette from a match that two others had already used. Even today, the superstition that it’s unlucky to light three cigarettes from the same match persists.
Oddly, though the superstition still exists, matches don’t. I needed some matches yesterday, a couple of books or even a box of old fashioned kitchen matches, and I didn’t find a single one. One major retailer sold fireplace matches, the long kind, but they were out of stock. A convenience store/mini market didn’t have any. The clerk said they usually had some, but were out. I even went to a smoke shop. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, right? Wrong. No matches.
I used to collect matchbooks, but when I had to leave my home of twenty years and put my stuff in storage, I got rid of the matches. I thought it was too dangerous to pack them away, but now I wish I had them, for curiosity’s sake if nothing else.
Matches were an incredible invention. I remember reading stories about frontier days, and how if the fire went out, they had to get live embers from a neighbor’s fire, protecting it through all the miles of travel. There were flints, of course, and before that, rubbing two sticks together, but eventually people realized that it’s a lot easier to start a fire with two sticks if one was a match. Other means of lighting fires are more prevalent now, which perhaps explains the scarcity of matches, but still, it seems odd that a simple little tool that was once so valuable it sparked a financial empire is so hard to find today.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.