Design by Coincidence?

Recently I’ve been scanning my modest collection of old matchbox labels and have noticed some similarities in design with old baseball cards. Most of the similarities seem to be unintentional. For example, here are three matchbox covers where the red stripe at the bottom are filled with bold text.

These examples of Swedish matchbox covers for the Indian market share the design element of a red stripe filled with bold text.

Do they remind you of a famous baseball series? How about the classic 1933 Goudey set? Here are three cards from that series followed by a grouping of retired cards from our Helmar-R319 set.

1933 Goudey cards. Note that both end cards have striking red backgrounds. We’ll talk about this in a minute.

I don’t for a moment believe that the Swedish matchbox designers were familiar with the Goudey cards. It is interesting, however, that two sets of graphic designers on different continents adopted the same look.

A Surprising Conclusion Coming

 Now take a gander at the Japanese examples below. The red background concept was used on thousands of different Japanese designs over many years. True, manufacturers in other countries employed it as well–they all copied shamelessly from each other. It was by far most common in Japanese design, however. I’ll share some beautiful examples some other day.

Japan was a major, major exporter of matchboxes in the earlier decades of the 20th century.  Their designs were eye-catching, quirky, and their product was everywhere — including here in the United States. American graphic designers were certainly aware of the Japanese designs and most likely admired them. I don’t think that it is much of a stretch to imagine that the designers of the 1914-15 Cracker Jack cards were heavily influenced by them. What do you think?

Above: early Cracker Jack cards. Below: Helmar Cigar cards.

4 thoughts

  1. Hi Charles. Interesting indeed. I like the Swedish ones the best. Perhaps you could use similar designs for ads on the back of some new card series, like you do on the T206 cards. Just a thought.


    1. Kim, I have thought of using something similar for card backs. I like the idea. My first choice is to hand engrave some blocks and individually block print the cards. It would take lots of time. Thanks for the input!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.