A special thanks to Jack's son Tony Hall for
all of his
help in writing this story. All of the photographs on this web
related to this story have been generously provided by Tony.
unusual instrument collection in the world…
Don't you just feel sorry for the match? Its useful life
so short. It's brought to life with just one flick of the stick
then …poof!… the match's life is over in an instant.
This seems like such a complete waste. Every year, we probably
of tons upon tons of these things. Could a matchstick recycling
be of some use here? Possibly, but what would we do with all of
things once we collected them all?
Unbeknownst to most people, one man came up with the perfect
He used the burnt wooden matchsticks to build musical
Yes, you did read that correctly. He used those dinky little
things to build guitars, banjos, and the like.
man's name was Jack Hall. Back in the 1930’s, Jack was a
aboard the tramp steamer Eastwick and found himself with just a little
bit too much time on his hands. Bored out of his mind, Jack just
started messing around with the discarded wooden matchsticks that his
sailors had left behind, eventually gluing them together into ever
complex and fascinating patterns.
Jack's first project was nothing to write home to mom about.
It was a simple two-ply plank that was basically useless. But, it
was a start. Like all hobbyists, as Jack's skills improved, his
became larger and more complex. He applied his matchstick
to the design of boxes, a clock, a windmill, and a lighthouse.
still relatively useless, but they were great to look at up on a shelf.
Creativity led Jack to a major problem. He couldn't get enough
matches. (It's hard for me to believe that a boatload of sailors
could not be smoking enough cigarettes to keep Jack in bountiful
Jack had to seek alternative sources and began to ask his friends and
to collect and save any burnt matchsticks that they could get their
on. Each time that his ship pulled into port, Jack would stock
It was the offhand comment made by a fellow sailor that he should “make
a fiddle and strike up a tune”, however, that sent Jack off into the
of matchstick music. Jack's curiosity had gotten the better of
and he was determined to make that fiddle a reality. But Jack
some key skills to pull this trick off. First, he was not a
He couldn't read or play a single note. Even worse, Jack did not have
of the construction skills needed to produce an instrument.
Clearly, this lack of skills did not stop Jack, so let's continue our
Each time that his ship stopped in port, Jack would visit local music
stores and pawnshops to study the various aspects of the violin.
He recorded all of the necessary measurements and made rough pencil
of the instrument to take back with him to sea.
For the next six months, Jack devoted five hours per day to creating
the fiddle. He used little more than a sharp knife, a razor
some sandpaper, a file, and glue. Each matchstick was soaked in
so that it could be molded into the proper shape. Bricks and
things were used to hold the matchsticks in place while the glue
14,000 matchsticks later, Jack produced a working violin, bow and
You're probably sitting there with an image of a cheap, flimsy
in your mind. Instead, Jack's violin looked as elegant as the
of violins. But, the real question was whether or not it would
play. Jack, with his little bit of musical skill, was able to
out a few screeches, but the real test of the instrument's quality
have to wait.
Jack wasn't content to stop with the violin. Between the years
of 1936 and 1939, he proceeded to expand his collection, which included
two mandolins, a tenor banjo, and an acoustic guitar. Not only
he build the instruments, but he also created carrying cases for each
The cases, get this, were made from the actual boxes that the matches
sent to him in. The outsides of the instrument cases were painted
the traditional black, but upon opening, one would be encountered by a
dizzying array of matchbox logos and images. Unintentionally,
case uniquely captured a snapshot of history.
Hobbies of this magnitude require something that so many of us seem
to lack these days: time. With the onset of World War II, Jack
himself in a similar situation. By the time of his military
in 1945, he had all but abandoned his craft. Over the next forty
years, he was only able to add a recorder and a ukulele to his
Excluding a brief exhibition in 1951 at the Festival of Great Britain,
Jack's instruments rarely ever saw the light of day. This would
change in 1976 when a reporter/musician from BBC Radio Brighton heard
Jack's collection. Jack pulled the instruments out of his attic
dusted them off. They were in perfect working order and sounded
It would not be until 1991 that Jack's dream for these instruments
would actually come true. His instruments were actually played by
a quintet of professional musicians before a live audience on BBC
Not only did Jack get to see the instruments professionally played for
the first time, but everyone was impressed by the amazing sound that
Sadly, Jack passed away in 1993 at the age of 86. Jack's son
Tony now cares for his twenty-six piece matchstick collection, which
thirteen musical instruments, the windmill, the lighthouse, and his
Musicians continue to marvel at this unique collection. Most
recently, this treasure appeared in an episode of Ripley’s Believe It
Not!. It featured the Rhinestone Cowboy himself, Glen Campbell,
Jack's 1937 guitar. Glen stated “It's a marvelous work of art and
as good as any instrument that I've played of this era.” At son
request, Glen performed Amazing Grace for the segment. It was
to Jack's wife, Tony's mom, who was struggling with the final stages of
terminal cancer at the time. Mom was certainly proud and filled
delight. We can certainly be sure that Jack was looking down from
above with equal pride and joy.
And to think that it all started from a few discarded matchsticks…
Useless? Useful? I'll leave that for you to decide.
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