Need a match? Ask Larry Longenecker, a 29-year-old computer programer from Artington who's managed to collect more than 75,000 matchbook covers. Part of his unusual collection is on display at Washington's Museum of Temporary Art (1206 G St. NW) Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 to 6, through Thanksgiving weekend. It's a striking show.
"Some of my friends think I've gotten carried away," says the mild-mannered Longenecker, who started collecting matches about 12 years ago. "My father was a traveling salesman, and he would always bring matches home. Then my friends started looking for me. Right now, I'd say there are over 75,000 in the collection. But it's an inexpensive hooby."
The show represents a nostalgic look at America's golden age of advertising , when matchbook covers wee taken seriously. There's the wonderful Art Deco "Hotel Paris" (800 rooms, 800 baths, 800 radios); the World War II "Know Your Navy, Army and Marine Corps" matches with insignias and their meanings; the "Make It Hot for Hitler" matchbook cover with orange flames; British and Canadian porno covers and, perhaps the most attractive of all, the girlie matches.
Manufactured by the Chicago Match Co. from 1939 to 1949, the covers feature scantily clad models in risque poses. In "Ridin' the Range," the sketch features a buxom blonde cowgirl straddling a gas oven; in "Fixing Her Drawers," a brunette in a sheer nightie hammers at a dresser drawer.
Longenecker has a special interest in the girlie covers the Superior Match Co. produced from 1938 to 1977. He's found every one.
The sensuous beauties that appeared on the 1948 covers were sketched by the well-known artist "Petty," who later drew for Playboy magazine. By the the 1950s the models were photographed, and on one cover, dated 1958, the platinum blonde with all the cleavage bears a striking resemblance to Marilyn Monroe. "Actually, I think it's Jayne Mansfield," Longenecker says proudly.
There are antique matches, advertising beer, Coca-Cola, racetracks, hotels, movies, the Pennsylvania Railroad (remember dining cars?) and presidential yachts. Longenecker is so dedicated to the preservation of match book covers that he even managed to get one from the Sequoia before it was sold.
Does he ever have the urge to light any of the matches? Longenecker just grins and says, "I don't smoke."