As their name implies, Incense Matches are books of matches that are also incense sticks. They come in 16 different fragrances, like coconut, musk, Goddess of Egypt, and sandalwood. Light one, burn it down a quarter of an inch, and it emits a few smoke tendrils of scent before it extinguishes. It’s a brief wisp of fragrant smoke. No need to turn your bathroom into a donation-based yoga studio. (Or worse, for anyone who frets over apartment fires, no need to leave a lit candle unattended.)
Then there’s the packaging: Each aroma comes in a fantastic booklet that’s color-coded to its scent, and embossed with its gold, disco-era, Tarantino-like logo mark. This is what hooked me, when I first saw these little objects in a shop in the Rockaways. The matchbook looks like a prop from the Boogie Nights set, but all it carries are brief bursts of incense. Looking at them, perched in a seashell atop my toilet, makes me feel like I’ve stepped into a Tom Robbins novel.
Because of that, I’ve cooked up all kinds of fanfiction about the forest-dwelling hippies that must make the Incense Match. As it turns out, they were invented around 50 years ago in Yardley, Pennsylvania, by a very practical man named Jerry Wagner, whom his son, Mike, describes as “a teacher, a principal, a very cool dude — but never classified as a hippie. More of an Elvis Presley, Motown, Earth, Wind & Fire guy.” Wagner happened to have a brilliant idea: Why not make incense travel-friendly and low-commitment? Mike runs the family business these days, making the matches in Trenton, New Jersey. He regards the Incense Match as practically as his father did: “The matches have value other than incense — basically, it’s a bathroom match,” he says. “I’m not a big spray guy.”
Writer Caroline Bankoff loves this Santa Fe incense because, she says, “When burned, it gives off the invigorating, pleasantly rustic aroma of a campfire or fireplace, with no perfumey or musky qualities. The scent is strong enough to linger for a day or two, but not overpowering or occultish.”
Carlos Quirarte (co-owner of the Smile and mastermind of the performance space at the Public Hotel) adores this Japanese incense: “A friend of mine who was a sound artist would come over to sell all these different kinds of incense. Of all of them, this one stuck in my head because I realized it’s the same exact one that they use in the R by 45rpm store. I smelled it and said, ‘Oh my god.’ I literally can’t live without this stuff. I travel with it.”
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