Damien Hirst's 1997 most coveted restaurant matchbooks

September 22, 2023

In the late 1990s, renowned British artist Damien Hirst teamed up with restaurateur Matthew Freud to open Pharmacy, a restaurant located in London’s Notting Hill that looked like an actual pharmacy. All the interior detail was designed and loaned by Damien Hirst, right down to the wallpaper, medicine cabinets, plates, ashtrays and matchbooks, which served both as practical items for customers to use and as collectible pieces of art. They featured Hirst’s distinctive pharmaceutical-themed artwork, which was a hallmark of the restaurant’s interior decor, and their design often included colorful pill patterns and medical imagery, reflecting Hirst's fascination with pharmaceuticals and medicine. They were a small but significant part of the overall aesthetic of Pharmacy, contributing to the immersive experience of dining in a space where art and cuisine came together.

Pharmacy instantly became a celebrity hotspot, with A-listers like Kate Moss and Madonna dining there. But controversy brewed over the use of prescription drugs as decor, which the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain claimed could confuse people looking for a real pharmacy. The name of the restaurant itself was breaching the Medicines Act 1968 and was subsequently changed to “Army Chap,” and later to “Achy Ramp": both anagrams of the word "Pharmacy.” While the restaurant itself ultimately closed its doors in 2003 amidst continuous protests and criticism, these matchbooks, like other memorabilia from Pharmacy, have become sought-after collectibles for art enthusiasts and collectors alike, showcasing how Hirst's unique artistic vision extended even to the smallest details of the establishment.

In 2004, Damien Hirst auctioned off 168 lots of ‘Pharmacy’ original items at Sotheby’s for a staggering £11 million and some 20 years later, there are no longer any original matchbooks in existence (certainly not in perfect condition and with all matches present). The complete set of 60 matchbooks in the original presentation box is an extreme rarity, as they where originally distributed individually to customers and only 7 designs were actually produced for customer use in the restaurant.