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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 site related to this story have been generously provided by Tony.

The most unusual instrument collection in the world…

Don't you just feel sorry for the match?  Its useful life is just so short.  It's brought to life with just one flick of the stick and then …poof!… the match's life is over in an instant.    This seems like such a complete waste.  Every year, we probably dispose of tons upon tons of these things.  Could a matchstick recycling program be of some use here?  Possibly, but what would we do with all of these things once we collected them all?
Unbeknownst to most people, one man came up with the perfect solution.  He used the burnt wooden matchsticks to build musical instruments.  Yes, you did read that correctly.  He used those dinky little burnt things to build guitars, banjos, and the like.
This ingenious man's name was Jack Hall.   Back in the 1930’s, Jack was a sailor 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 fellow sailors had left behind, eventually gluing them together into ever increasingly 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 projects became larger and more complex.  He applied his matchstick techniques to the design of boxes, a clock, a windmill, and a lighthouse.  All 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 supply!)  Jack had to seek alternative sources and began to ask his friends and family to collect and save any burnt matchsticks that they could get their hands on.  Each time that his ship pulled into port, Jack would stock up.
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 world of matchstick music.  Jack's curiosity had gotten the better of him and he was determined to make that fiddle a reality.  But Jack lacked some key skills to pull this trick off.  First, he was not a musician.  He couldn't read or play a single note. Even worse, Jack did not have any of the construction skills needed to produce an instrument. 
Clearly, this lack of skills did not stop Jack, so let's continue our story:
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 sketches 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 blade, some sandpaper, a file, and glue.  Each matchstick was soaked in water so that it could be molded into the proper shape.  Bricks and other things were used to hold the matchsticks in place while the glue set.  
Some 14,000 matchsticks later, Jack produced a working violin, bow and all.  You're probably sitting there with an image of a cheap, flimsy instrument in your mind.  Instead, Jack's violin looked as elegant as the best of violins.  But, the real question was whether or not it would actually play.  Jack, with his little bit of musical skill, was able to crank out a few screeches, but the real test of the instrument's quality would 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 did he build the instruments, but he also created carrying cases for each one.  The cases, get this, were made from the actual boxes that the matches were 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, each 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 found himself in a similar situation.  By the time of his military discharge 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 collection. 
Excluding a brief exhibition in 1951 at the Festival of Great Britain, Jack's instruments rarely ever saw the light of day.  This would all change in 1976 when a reporter/musician from BBC Radio Brighton heard about Jack's collection.  Jack pulled the instruments out of his attic and dusted them off.  They were in perfect working order and sounded superb.
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 Television.  Not only did Jack get to see the instruments professionally played for the first time, but everyone was impressed by the amazing sound that they produced.
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 includes thirteen musical instruments, the windmill, the lighthouse, and his other creations.  
Musicians continue to marvel at this unique collection.  Most recently, this treasure appeared in an episode of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!.  It featured the Rhinestone Cowboy himself, Glen Campbell, playing 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 Tony's request, Glen performed Amazing Grace for the segment.  It was dedicated 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 with 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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to see 10 images from
Jack's collection.
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