Matchbox or Communist Propaganda?

Discover the propaganda secrets contained inside our matchbox collection, with Radka Tobolkova.

Grey box full of little colourful matches box with different company names and logos
Matchboxes donated to our collection

One of the tasks I took part on during my traineeship at Leeds Museums and Galleries was cataloguing a collection of more than 250 matchboxes from an unknown donor.

When taking the matchboxes out of the case they were donated in, we hoped to find a note with information about the donor or how they came to be in our museum collection. We had no such luck, but instead realised that the matchboxes were made in the mid-20th century, in many different European countries: Britain, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Russia (though it was still the USSR at that time) and six of them from Czechoslovakia.

As I live in the Czech Republic, the successor of Czechoslovakia, I know that there was a famous match company in Susice, and I was curious to find out from the matchboxes if I would come across any sign of my homeland. I was surprised when I saw Czech words on one of the match boxes at the very bottom of the case, and after a closer look I immediately knew it wasn’t just a normal match box: it was a perfect example of communist propaganda.

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Grey background with a blue and red matches box with drawing of a little boy on the left and the phrase: Jste jiz clenem okresni pece o mladez written on the right
Matchbox with a question, written in Czech, asking: “Are you already a member of District Youth Care?”

On the matchbox is a picture of a small child and a Czech question on the label: Jste jiz clenem okresni pece o mladez? Which can be translated as: Are you already a member of District Youth Care?

The question might sound innocent, but for someone who knows the background of life in communist Czechoslovakia there is a clear hidden meaning. One of the goals communists wanted to reach was the participation of ‘common people’ on state important issues. In fact, they wanted people to feel – falsely – that their participation matters. The true communist citizen was supposed to be a member of as many organisations or associations as possible. In this particular case, the District Youth Care aimed to take care of the ‘correct’ development of children and the young, who were considered the future of the nation.

Big grey table with all the different colourful matches box organised and aligned
Organising the matchboxes at Leeds Discovery Centre

Actually, there were five more matchboxes made in Czechoslovakia in the collection, but they were made to be sold on the British market as all the labels were in English. All of these matchboxes were made by SOLO Susice, a match factory with a long tradition founded in 1839 which ended the production in 2008 due to economic crisis.

By Radka Tobolkova, Erasmus Traineeship

Learn more about our Social History collections here.

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