The Daily Telegraph
Telegraph helps matchstick man keep his model hobby shipshape
AFTER 72 years making intricate matchstick models of military ships, Philip Warren was running out of raw materials.
But after the 90-year-old from Dorset was featured in The Daily Telegraph appealing for more wooden matchboxes, his life’s work was saved by generous readers – and he has added three brand new model warships to his collection, currently on exhibition in Weymouth in Dorset.
Collectors and their families sent him around 300 wooden matchboxes, which he has now used to construct a three-foot model of the Gerald R Ford US aircraft carrier.
Mr Warren said: “When I started doing this in 1948, there were many more people using matches and matchboxes all the time. So there were literally hundreds of them just lying about.
“Matches aren’t a problem because they are still useful for people camping and things like that, as well as smokers. But I would imagine the sales are only a fraction of what they were years ago.”
He uses the traditional thin boxes, made from aspen wood, to make the hulls and decks of the boats. But matches began to be sold in cardboard, rather than wooden boxes, in the 1980s and 1990s, limiting Mr Warren’s supply.
Luckily, the colourful images used to decorate the wooden boxes meant they had become collectors’ items, with some fans amassing tens of thousands.
When they heard of his plight last year these collectors and their families began sending him spare boxes, which he is rationing to ensure supply.
“Generally speaking, not the collectors themselves, but their relatives – they’re mostly grandad’s, or so on, and were up in the attic for years, and they wonder what to do with them.
“Luckily, [these] collectors kept the whole box, not just the label,” he said.
As well as the Gerald R Ford aircraft carrier, Mr Warren made a two-foot model of the new Type 26 Royal Navy frigate and a 10-inch model of the HMS Trent offshore vessel using the donated boxes. He has around 150 boxes left.
He uses nothing but matchsticks, matchboxes, a razor blade and glue to make the scale 1:300 models, which he has been constructing since the age of 17 and exhibiting for six decades.
Since he started he has constructed more than 250 Royal Navy ships including HMS Ark Royal, HMS Belfast and HMS Sheffield as well as many American vessels and those of other nations, building a total of 484 models and using over a million matchsticks.
At the age of 90 he can still do the intricate work, which includes painting inch-long aircraft with tiny Royal Navy lettering, and plans to continue until he sees the quality of his work drop.
“It’s depending totally on the state of my health – the dexterity of my fingers and the keenness of my eye.
“I count myself a very, very lucky man that at my age I can still do it,” he Mr Warren said.
The exhibition at Nothe Fort continues until September 12.