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The Match Book: Tenderloin Historical Ephemera Project

Join the Tenderloin Museum for the opening reception of The Matchbook Map Exhibit, featuring a searchable, interactive touchscreen map that connects matchbook imagery to historical info on the associated business and address. Th  is new permanent exhibit will be presented in conjunction with a new temporary exhibit, The Tenderloin Ephemera Exhibition, featuring historical Tenderloin ephemera from the 1920’s-1950’s including glassware, postcards, menus, matchbooks et al. The Tenderloin Ephemera Exhibition would not be possible without Glenn Koch, who lent his collection to the Tenderloin Museum. Koch is one of the Bay Area's preeminent collectors of San Francisco historic ephemera and author of San Francisco Golden Age Postcards & Memorabilia, 1900-1940. Koch will be in attendance at the opening (January 10th 6-9pm) to speak about his collection and answer any questions.

To celebrate the magic that is ephemera we’re inviting neighboring institutions and individuals to showcase their ephemera collections for one night only at our opening event. Bring your own ephemera from San Francisco's past, especially the Tenderloin! We are so excited to explore the neighborhood’s collective memory as told through your mementos. Email to let us know what you plan to bring (we're welcoming any ephemera from San Francisco, Tenderloin preferred). These small, seemingly ordinary objects beautifully encapsulate the city and the neighborhood's colorful, vibrant past. Join us and travel back in time through the neighborhood's material culture.

This event is part of The Tenderloin Match Book: Historical Ephemera Project a multi-faceted project that also encompasses the publication of The Match Book: Vintage Matchbooks from San Francisco’s Tenderloin, an artfully designed history book of the Tenderloin featuring the matchbooks of local businesses and cultural institutions.

Through the everyday act of picking up a matchbook and striking a match, one is transported to another place and time; the past is remembered through a pedestrian interaction with a tangible object. Matchbooks are emblems of local culture: accessible, utilitarian ephemera that functioned as the chosen form of advertising for small businesses in an era before plastic lighters and health concerns about smoking. These ritual objects exist at a fascinating intersection of material culture, local history, and design art; matchbooks (and other local business ephemera) are striking populist artifacts that serve as portals to places and people in a neighborhood’s past. The Tenderloin Match Book: Historical Ephemera Project presents an illuminating new perspective on the Tenderloin’s often overlooked history, enriches the detail and depth of the neighborhood’s narrative, and ignites the Tenderloin community’s historical imagination.

The visual language of the matchbooks broadcasts a rich local dialect, which took root in the Tenderloin’s many restaurants, bars, hotels, and social clubs. Aesthetically evocative examples of this lingo abound, conjuring a rich, nuanced vision of Tenderloins past. As art objects, these vintage matchbooks are visually striking representations of TL architecture or a cheeky synecdoche for good times to be had inside a given establishment. Whether emblazoned with minimalist typographic experiments, strikingly representative imagery, or an ingenious amalgam of design and illustration, Tenderloin Matchbooks stoke the historical imagination. As physical artifacts, they provide a historical record of a business or particular address. But what’s more, these mass-produced and widely distributed tokens touched myriad individual narratives, belonging to people who walked the same streets and lived in the same buildings as the present Tenderloin community.

While certainly eye-catching, these paper matchbooks were meant to be used, not to last forever. As such, The Match Book: Tenderloin Historical Ephemera Project is a call to preservation for these evocative relics that are so prone to decay. In some cases, matchbooks are the only evidence that remains of long-shuttered TL businesses. By presenting an intimate, everyday perspective in an aesthetically appealing way, The Match Book and accompanying exhibitions and programs will make this history widely accessible, and promote preservation advocacy within the City, as thousands of people will benefit from improved historical knowledge of a long-overlooked district. Preservationists of the future will be able to easily access information about specific addresses and buildings in the Tenderloin neighborhood, and the City’s public life will be enriched by a deepened understanding of our shared history.

Today, the tradition of creative, charismatic, and often idiosyncratic promotional materials is one that continues amongst the local businesses in the Tenderloin. We intend the The Match Book to create continuity and lineage between the Tenderloin of the past and the Tenderloin of the present.

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Earlier Event: December 20
Holiday Bazaar!