Aquiles da Mota Lima Museum of Matches

Stuart Forster visits the Aquiles da Mota Lima Museum of Matches in Tomar, Portugal.

Many attractions and museums claim to have no match; not this one though. Tomar’s Museu dos Fosforos Aquiles da Mota Lima (‘The Aquiles da Mota Lima Museum of Matches’) is home to Europe’s biggest collection of matchboxes, many of which still hold their original contents.

The man behind this remarkable collection was Aquiles da Mota Lima, who was born in Tomar in 1889. He put together a collection of 60,000 artefacts, including 40,000 matchboxes from 122 countries.

Matchboxes from around the world

In 1980 the pride and joy of the prodigious phillumenist, a word I had never had cause to note until visiting this museum, was donated to the municipality of Tomar.

A sign outside of this attraction, which is housed within the Convent of St Francis and just a few strides from Tomar’s bus and railway stations, claims this museum provides “a singular description of universal history and culture.” If that sort of claim doesn’t spark intrigue and the burning desire among travellers to visit a place, what, if anything, will?

Artefacts from a bygone age

Looking at the exhibits, it dawned on me that matches are surprisingly infrequently seen these days. Smoking is no longer an integral part of socialising in Western European cultures, at least not to the degree it was during the wartime or even a couple of decades ago. Seeing the matchboxes made me realise that I now see discarded disposable lighters lying on city streets far more frequently than matches or matchboxes. Perhaps this museum can be said to capture a snapshot of a bygone era.

Frankly, the humour on a number of the British matchboxes looks tame and dated. Times and mentalities change and this is reflected in the jokes and sayings displayed on the matchboxes.

Dodgy humour and old fonts

“Women are like money. You have to keep them busy or they lose interest,” reads one box that originally cost 2 ½ d. That one would never get the go-ahead from a marketing department these days.

If you’re into design then this museum will prompt to you to consider changes in the use of fonts and imagery on everyday products.

Aquiles da Mota Lima Museum of Matches

Walking from room to room, spotting a fire extinguisher hanging on a wall, made me wonder about the cost of fire insurance for this museum. After all, the heads of countless matches can still be seen peeking from behind the packaging collected by da Mota Lima.

This museum is free to visit and is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 am to 1.00 pm then from 2.00 pm to 6.00 pm. It’s a striking place. Of course, you’d expect nothing less of a museum with so many matchboxes.

Further information

Learn more about Portugal’s tourism attractions on the Visit Portugal website.

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