The History of Indian Matchbox Art

Radiant pink lotus flowers, red hot peppers, pouncing tigers, wrestling elephants, leaping stags, seductive gods, and sultry goddesses - bright, bold, diminutive, and dramatic - such is the imagery of matchbox labels from India.

Radiant pink lotus flowers, red hot peppers, pouncing tigers, wrestling elephants, leaping stags, seductive gods, and sultry goddesses – bright, bold, diminutive, and dramatic – such is the imagery of matchbox labels from India.

Unable to keep up with demand in the decades prior to World War I, most of India’s matches were imported, mainly from Sweden, Austria and Japan. Around 1910, Japanese immigrants settling in Calcutta began making matches. Locals learned the necessary skills, and a number of small match factories sprang up in and around the city.

Indian Matchbox Art | Made in Sweden

Indian Matchbox Art | Made in Austria

Indian Matchbox Art | Made in Japan

Following World War I, many manufacturers migrated to the state of Tamil Nadu in the south where the climate was dry, labor was cheap, and raw materials were plentiful. Owned and operated by closely related Indian families, to this day, the “Match Kings of South India,” as they are known, continue to produce the bulk of the nation’s matches. Matches were, and still are, also produced by hand in private households as a small-scale cottage industry.

Indian Matchbox Art | Made in India

Nimish Adani

I am the founder & CEO of Engrave. I started off in 2011 with a workshop that engraved photos for customers on to wooden plaques. Soon, we were making plaques, nameplates, canvas prints, decals and dozens of other products for thousands of customers. To help us make these items, we engaged a group of dedicated craftsmen. By 2015, 3 of our dedicated craftsmen had built their own workshops, employing between 6-10 people. By showcasing their skills on a digital platform, these craftsmen had turned into successful entrepreneurs. This success motivated me to transform Engrave in to a platform which could help thousands of Indian artisans and craftspersons - and this lead to the launch of the maker's market in 2015.

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