Matchbox label

ca.1960s (made)

Height: 47 mm, Width: 36 mm

IS.50-2012 SSEA

Matchbox label for ‘Shanku Safety Matches’, India, 20th century

Matchbox label for ‘Shanku Safety Matches’. ‘Shanku’ means conch shell. The central image depicts a white conch shell with dark blue detail lying on its side on an olive green ground, with thin blue borders enclosing the central design. At the top of the design is a decorative panel which incoprorates the product name, ‘Shanku’ (in white on olive green). Below this are the words ‘50’s Safety Matches’ (in blue text on white), ‘Price 15 Ps’ (paise) (in blue), while ‘Durai Match Industries, Ceruvangi Gudiyattam, N.A.Dt.’ (in white text on a blue panel) are below the central design.

Indian matchbox covers form part of India’s vibrant popular visual culture. These small boxes, sold for a few pence, are bold and colourful, some simple and naïve, others more complex and detailed. The images range from gods and goddesses, women, flowers, fruits, monuments, transport, tools, consumer goods and more. Successful covers are continuously copied and there can be endless variations of one particular image produced by rival companies. Many covers have a ‘retro’ feel about them because of this copying process, this also makes them difficult to date. Despite their ephemeral nature, they can convey historical, political and social information. Matchbox art dates back to the 1920s when India began producing its own matches from factories in Calcutta in Bengal and Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu. Prior to this, matches were imported from Europe, mainly Sweden, and Japan. Early images reflect themes of nationalism while more recent images include planes, motorcycles and trucks. The chank or shankha is a conch shell which has ritual and religious importance in both Hindusim and Buddhism. In Hinduism during puja (religious ritual) the conch shell is used as a ceremonial trumpet with the sound emitted associated with the sacred sound of Om. In the ancient Indian epics the conch was often blown as a battle horn. The conch shell is also a sacred emblem of the Hindu god Vishnu, who is frequently depicted holding the shell in his upper left hand. As a symbol of water it is connected to female fertility and serpents (Nāgas). In Buddhism the conch shell is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols. The shape of India has also been likened to a conch shell.

Location: In Storage

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