One of the most enduring figures in Australian popular culture is ‘Miss Redhead’, who first appeared on the Bryant and May Redheads matchbox label in 1947.  The playful personification of the mundane, functional red-tipped safety match as a glamorous red-headed woman was something new in Australian marketing.

Redheads box label, Original 1947 design, Bryant and May Archive, State Library Victoria

It’s a measure of her iconic status that in the past women have come forward claiming to have been the original model for Miss Redhead.  But the rendering is completely generic, and an actual model is unlikely to have been involved.  We do not know who drew the first Miss Redhead, or for that matter, who restyled her for the updated label in 1958.

Redheads box label, revised 1958 design, Bryant and May Archive, State Library Victoria

The label remained the same during the 1960s, but a modified version of Miss Redhead appeared on the paper wrapping in which bulk matches were sold. Her features are slightly compressed, giving her a more knowing, less startled look.

1960s Redheads wrapper, Bryant and May archive, State Library Victoria

In 1971 the new Ms Redhead appeared, as refined by legendary Australian graphic artist Brian Sadgrove.  Giving her even bigger hair, Sadgrove has tightened up and modernized the design, cleverly sculpting the hair-forms to suggest both curling tongues of flame, and the rounded red tip of the match.

Redheads label, 1971 redesign by Brian Sadgrove, Bryant and May archive, State Library Victoria

Since then, Ms Redhead has displayed infinite variety, to the delight of phillumenists (collectors of matchboxes). 

Redheads Olympic series 1984, Bryant and May Archive, State Library Victoria

In 1975 the design was future-proofed against changes in hairstyles by flooding it with a red background.

Redheads label, 1975 redesign, Bryant and May archive, State Library Victoria

Ms Redhead lends herself to re-invention and a number of artists have adapted her. Jo Waite transformed her into a series of ‘Radheads’, including this ‘Dredhead’.

Jo Waite, Radheads

She has even served as an avatar for one Australian Prime Minister:

Bewitched & Bedevilled,Hardie Grant 2013, cover design by Josh Durham

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This article has 4 comments

  1. The story in my wife’s wider family is that her mother’s cousin, Graham Moore, a noted Australian artist and Art and painting teacher, drew the first Red Head woman, as one of his first commissions.
    But he was never given credit for it.
    I will contact Graham Moore’s daughter, Jillaine Hurrell, herself a noted ceramist and teacher, and let her know about this State Library e-mail notice.
    She may be able to confirm this story.

    • John, thank you for this fascinating information. It would be great to track down the original Redhead artist. We look forward to hearing more from you.

  2. For a matchbox collector from wayback the display the wonderful

  3. I’m enjoying see this collection right in my own home. Thank you

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