Since I’m organizing a matchbox shrine swap this week, I thought I’d take a moment to discuss the three types of matchboxes I’ve received over the years: shrines, fills, and books. There seems to be some confusion about what these things are and aren’t, so here’s my guide:

Here are three matchboxes from my collection that are truly shrines. They represent a single idea. When opened, the contents are arranged and glued in place to create a scene or idea. I can look at each one and tell you what they represent: games, Asia, a fairy fern garden.

Discussing what a shrine is, exactly, is difficult. For more on making shrines, try this article on my process.


Here are three more matchboxes from my collection. Although these were received in shrine swaps, they are not shrines—they’re fills. The matchboxes are decorated on the outside, just like shrines, but inside, it’s a totally different story. These boxes are crammed full of loose goodies. While those goodies may be related to the exterior decoration, they are not meant to stand alone as an art object. Here, the matchbox is simply a pretty container, and the items inside are meant to be used, worn, or played with. In most cases, a fill is not a shrine.


Two more from my collection, also received in shrine swaps—and also not shrines. These are matchbox books. Again, the exteriors are decorated, and the interiors may or may not be related to that decoration. These are meant to be folded out and handled like accordian books. In most cases, a book is not a shrine or a fill.

So, there you have it. When someone suggests a matchbox swap, be sure to ask them to be specific about what they’re expecting to receive. If they suggest a matchbox shrine swap, make a shrine, not a fill—and conversely, if you sign up for a matchbox fill swap, don’t send a shrine.

And, naturally, if they don’t know what the heck you’re talking about, point them toward this article and educate them!