The Inserts explained

Examples of Inserts

Inserts are small collectable cards (32 mm x 46 mm), each one showing an attractive image of an actress, a queen, a musician, a bullfighter, a politician or similar, which were included free-of-charge inside Spanish matchboxes between 1897 and 1910.

At that time the Spanish match industry was run by a state-controlled monopoly, the Gremio de Fabricantes, which was following a trend started in cigarette papers and chocolate wrappers to entice people to collect entire Series of Inserts and therefore buy more matchboxes.

A total of 37 different Series were issued, with 75 or more Inserts in each Series, making a grand total of 3,175 individual cards for collection (plus a few variants).

At one level this was a purely commercial exercise by the Gremio to increase their income. But at another level these lovely cards became highly collectable, and still are to this day. To encourage collectors, the Gremio published specially designed collectors’ albums and sheets.

At the turn of the 20th Century households used lots and lots of matches – e.g. for lighting candles, domestic heating and for smoking. There was therefore a significant demand for matches, which the Gremio intended to capitalise on.

Of course, fire has played an important role in the development of the human race. Since the invention of the friction match in 1826, matches and matchboxes have spread to all corners of the globe, turning match making into a multi-national, global industry. Click here for a brief history of the Spanish matchbox industry from 1838 to the present day.


Series number is highlighted in red, Insert number in Blue, subject in green

Each Insert is individually numbered within the Series. The Series number, Insert number and the title of the subject are always printed on the Insert, usually on the front but sometimes on the back of the Insert.

The front of every Insert has an attractive photograph or drawing on it, depicting a subject from the Series theme (e.g. Actresses, Politicians, Royalty, Poets, Painters, Bullfighters), and the image is always framed by a border. Although the early Series have black and white images, later ones are in colour. 

The back of the Inserts are almost always blank, except for Series 29, 30, 31 and Special which contain text.

There are two designs of the Inserts:

The Inserts are all rectangular and most are correctly viewed when held vertically. Their dimensions vary slightly between the different Series, but they measure approximately 32mm wide by 46mm high for Series 1 to 31, and approximately 31mm wide by 42mm high for the later Series.


Gremio box with Insert from Series 1

After the Inserts had been printed and cut from the printed sheets, the Inserts had to be manually placed inside the boxes.

The matchboxes that contained the Inserts are a type of ‘springflap’ design which the Gremio had been using since 1892, made from folded card with a lift-up lid which is spring-loaded by an ingeniously fitted rubber band. The main body of the matchbox is rectangular and has an opening in the top to allow the removal of the wax stem matches. Click here for more information on these matchboxes.

Initially, the Inserts were placed inside the lids of the matchboxes, but after complaints from the public they were they placed on top of the match cavity.


A grand total of 3,175 individual Inserts are available for collection (plus a few variants and index cards), as explained below :

  • Series 1 has 75 items and was issued twice, giving 150 collectable cards
  • Series 2 to 14 have 75 items, giving 975 collectable cards
  • Series 15 has 75 items and was issued in five different colours, giving 375 collectable cards
  • Series 16 to 29 and 31 to 33 have 75 items, giving 1,275 collectable cards
  • Series 30, A, B, C and Special have 80 items, giving 400 collectable cards

There are also a number of collectable cards which look like matchbox Inserts but are in fact from other sources. Click here to see some of these other types of Inserts.


Spanish Inserts are now generally rare and some series are more difficult to obtain than others. In fact Series 15 green and Series C are extremely rare, almost impossible to obtain complete.

Obtaining sets or individual cards to complete a Series is largely only possible through collectors who are prepared to sell. Dealers can help, but they are unlikely to have many in stock although they may be able to obtain items requested.

Online auction sites (e.g. Todocolección) often have albums, complete Series and individual Inserts for sale, though the prices can vary widely, and although the vast majority of vendors are totally reputable it is always worth confirming the authenticity of the lots before bidding.

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