Times change. Trends come and go. Businesses open and close. Today’s fashions and hot spots are quietly consigned to history.
Anyone interested in unearthing relics of forgotten Secaucus has a ready source available other than faded texts. A quick search of eBay will turn up numerous mementos and souvenirs from the town’s past.
Entering the name “Secaucus” into the eBay search engine recently turned up 285 items, ranging from a minor league baseball card to a brass letter opener from Secaucus Masonic lodge 282 to a chunk of stilbite crystal said to originate at Snake Hill. Train collectables are big, with various images of locomotives in local train yards available on postcards, prints, and slides.
Devotees of police and fire department memorabilia will find an assortment of items including patches, photos, vintage buttons, even a souvenir glass tumbler commemorating the 1963 inspection parade led by Chief John Woeckener.
Mix and match
Among the more interesting items recently available online were a number of matchbook covers advertising local businesses that have vanished into the past. Initially patented in a crude form in 1892, the matchbook became a common way to cheaply advertise products and businesses, peaking in popularity between 1920 and 1945, according to the book Close Cover Before Striking: The Golden Age of Matchbook Art.
A matchbook cover for Gateway Motor Inns, Inc. recently sold for a mere $3.99 on eBay. The blue and white item advertising “two convenient locations” indicated that the local branch was located at 105 Route 3 in Secaucus. Conference rooms, the cover noted, were available.
The “striker” surface of this particular matchbook was located on the flap, indicating that it was manufactured sometime before 1962, when federal safety laws required strikers to be moved to the backside of the matchcover for safety.
Like many other venues from the early sixties or before, Gateway Motor Inns in Secaucus is long gone. Only the ad remains.
Lovers of light
Collectors of matchbook covers are known as “phillumenists” or “lovers of light.” The hobby took off in the late 1920s and enthusiasts claim it is the second largest hobby in the world, behind stamp collecting.
Condition of the collectible matters, as with most hobbies. The dedicated phillumenist carefully “shucks” a matchbook, meticulously prying open the staple and removing the matches. According to Close Cover Before Striking, “phillumenists do not collect matchbooks. They collect matchcovers.” The best matchcovers are flattened and unused, with the striker intact.
Two more Secaucus matchbook covers recently sold online as a set for $3.95. A dark red book for Paul’s Diner on Route 3 advertised “good food is good health.” Another long-gone local business, Paul’s was “always open,” according to the ad, with “all baking done on premises.”
Instead of “free 21-inch T.V. radio,” they now offer high speed internet and HBO.
Paired with the Paul’s Diner matchbook cover was one advertising Bator’s Tavern at 163 County Road in Secaucus. A colorful cartoon image seems to bear little relation to the booze business, with the appropriate comment, “Can’t figure it out!”
The ad also boasts of a modern marvel for bar patrons, proudly proclaiming in bold letters that TELEVISION is available at the establishment.
As stated in Close Cover Before Striking, “The matchcover was the naïve art of American popular culture.” It reflects both the visual esthetics and the mindset of the times, which is why collecting them is still popular. And although certain covers like a limited edition Charles Lindbergh commemorative design trade in the thousands of dollars, these Secaucus items are still easily affordable.
Vintage postcards are another popular collectible, and Secaucus produced its share over the years. Looking for a 1907 image of Public School 4? Buy it now for $97.95. How about Grace Avenue in 1909? “Amazing turn of the century picture of the actual street that still stands today,” read the description. Available to own for $127.95.
Some locations were utterly transformed over time. The white picket fences, wooden A-frames, and empty field of Fourth Street depicted in a 1907 postcard have given way to more modern structures.
The Royal Motel still sits on the same spot at 650 Route 3 West that it did in a garish vintage postcard advertising “swim and sun bathe all year round in our heated plastic covered swimming pool,” although the pool is gone and so is the extensive neon signage. And instead of “free 21-inch T.V. radio,” they now offer high speed internet and HBO.
On the other hand, the Immaculate Conception Church at 1219 Paterson Plank Road still looks remarkably similar to the faded image depicted in a postcard dated 1950, although the surroundings have changed.
Bringing things full circle is a vintage menu from Red Robin Restaurant, formerly located at 455 Harmon Meadow Blvd., attached to the Courtyard Marriott. The restaurant, which provided room service to Marriott guests, closed more than 10 years ago and became Redheads before Outback Steakhouse settled in the location.
Meanwhile a colorful new Red Robin Restaurant opened in November of last year directly across the street at 450 Harmon Meadow Blvd.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.