Richard Plaud toiled over eight years to construct a nearly 24-foot model of the Eiffel Tower. Each of the 706,900 matchsticks he glued together brought the Frenchman one step closer toward his dream: achieving a world record for building the tallest matchstick sculpture.
But in late January, weeks after he finished the replica, Guinness World Records officials delivered devastating news: His Eiffel Tower was disqualified for being built with the wrong type of matchsticks.
“It hurt me,” he told TFI Info, a French television network, in an interview aired this week. He also expressed his discontent on Facebook. “GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT,” he wrote in a post last week. “Tell me that the 706,900 sticks glued together one by one are not matches!!??”
By Thursday, however, after days of headlines about Mr. Plaud’s disappointment over his disqualification, Guinness reversed its decision, saying that it had made a mistake. Mr. Plaud had earned the title, Guinness clarified in a statement, even though he had used matchsticks without ignitable ends.
Mark McKinley, the director of records at Guinness, said on Friday that the organization regretted any distress it had caused Mr. Plaud during what should have been a time of celebration.
Upon reflection, Guinness had been “a little heavy handed” with its interpretation of what constituted a matchstick, Mr. McKinley said in an interview. While Guinness officials had initially defined matches as pieces of wood with an ignitable end, Guinness later learned that within the community of people who build things with matchsticks, cutting off the ends was standard practice to avoid starting a fire, he said.
“If you’ve got an ignitable end, it makes it quite a dangerous activity,” Mr. McKinley said.
Guinness contacted Mr. Plaud on Thursday to let him know he was the new champion, but he has not yet responded, Mr. McKinley said on Friday.
Mr. Plaud, who lives in western France, told Le Parisien that he finished his Eiffel Tower structure, which involved 50 pounds of glue, on Dec. 27, the centenary of the death of Gustave Eiffel, the civil engineer after whom the real thing was named.
Guinness said it had initially disqualified him because he had used specially ordered matches that did not include the ignitable tip. Mr. Plaud had started making his model by scraping off the sulfur tip of matches, a painstaking process, but decided to speed up construction by ordering custom matches without the tip from Flam’Up, a French matchstick maker, according to Guinness.
Guinness’s rules had stated that the matches used needed to be available commercially and must not be cut, disassembled or distorted beyond recognition as matchsticks.
Mr. Plaud joins winners in at least two other matchstick categories: largest collection of musical instruments made of matchsticks and biggest matchstick sculpture. The current champion of the first category is Bohdan Senchukov of Ukraine, with a collection of 14 matchstick musical instruments, including a guitar made of 23,000 matchsticks that took over a year to complete, Guinness said. (The musical instruments were also made using matches without ignitable ends.)
The title for the biggest matchstick sculpture category belongs to David Reynolds of Britain, who spent 15 years building a North Sea oil production platform. The previous titleholder for tallest matchstick sculpture, Toufic Daleh of Lebanon, had also won for an Eiffel Tower replica.
Mr. McKinley said Guinness’s verification process is not easy or perfect, and from time to time, involves missteps. “It was unfortunate it had to go this way,” he said.