First invented in 1823 and improved in the 1880s, pocket cigarette lighters were as common as keys or wallets by the early 20th century. The basic types of vintage lighters are manual (a spark from a flint striking a wheel ignites a wick or creates a flame above a gas valve), semi-automatic (the wheel also opens the fuel-source cover), and automatic (push-button).

The first manual lighters were called strike lighters and worked like matches. Users would scratch a flint using a wand with a hard metal tip and an attached wick; the flint would create sparks to ignite the wick, which was soaked with flammable fluid. By the 1920s, lighters had become functional as well as artistic with the advent of the semiautomatic lighter, in which the user flips open the lid and a flint wheel simultaneously spins and ignites the wick.

The automatic lighter was created by Louis Aronson, the founder of Ronson lighters, in 1926. It requires only the push of a button to create the flame, which stays lit as long as the button is held down. Early electric lighters were equally simple to use, and worked like the lighters in classic cars: The lighter was tipped with a metal coil and plugged into a larger housing element, which would heat the bottom enough to ignite a cigarette.

Through World War II, most lighters ran on Naptha, a petroleum mixture—after the war, Naptha was replaced by compressed butane. To attract female customers in the 1930s, some companies created lighters that combined various accessories, such as cigarette cases and compacts, and added rhinestones or decorative enameled designs. In the '30s, '40s, and '50s, Ronson produced the Ronson Master Pack, combining a lighter, cigarette case, and watch.

Vintage lighters vary from expensive, elegant objects made from precious metals to cheap novelty items, such as lighters that look like lipstick cases or little TV sets. Some lighters incorporated materials from notable manufacturers, such as Lalique glass or Lenox porcelain. Other key lighter manufacturers include Zippo, Dunhill, Penguin, Colibri, S.T. Dupont, Scripto, and Evans. Some of these companies also made table lighters.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Match World

Match World

This ambitious site showcases the 20,000-item Rankei Library matchbook collection, owned by the Japan Match Manufac… [read review or visit site]

Kensitas Silk Flowers

Kensitas Silk Flowers

Don Wearmouth and his wife showcase the 230 beautiful silk designs that were distributed free with Kensitas cigaret… [read review or visit site]

Matchbox Labels

Matchbox Labels

Jane McDevitt's huge Flickr photoset of matchbox labels, primarily Eastern European, from the 1950s and 60s. These … [read review or visit site]

Truth in Advertising

Truth in Advertising

This gallery of cigarette magazine advertising from the 1940s and 50s contains no surgeon general's warning, just p… [read review or visit site]

Matchbook Museum

Matchbook Museum

James Lileks' gallery of 400 matchbooks from coffee shops, hotels, motels, bars, banks, restaurants and more. Lilek… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

5pc Lot Vintage Zippo Lighters - Cigarette Advertising - Various *no Reserve*Art Deco Machine Age Ronson Sparton Lighter Large Rare Chromium & Black EnameledDunhill Vintage Rollagas Lighter Stripes Silver W/ Box 100% Auth Switzerland (g3x Vintage Bosch Spark Plug Cigarette Lighter And Pull Out Match StrikersAntique Sterling Silver 1910 Nassau Type Automatic Push Button Cigar Lighter Vintage Asprey London 9 Ct Solid Gold Wafer Petrol Pocket Lighter 1956Near Mint Never Used Vintage Dunhill48876 Gold Rollagas Lighter In Original BoxS.t. Dupont Limited Edition Platinum Plated Ligne 2 Pharaoh LighterCartier & S.t. Dupont Lighter For Parts Or Repair Lot 3 "not Works"Dunhill Vintage Rollagas Lighter For Parts Or Repair Lot 5 "not Works"Vintage Antique Trench Art Brass Wwi Ww1 Military Lighter Flaming Bomb Vintage Zippo Lighter Square Case 1936 Metalique 4 Barrel HingeVintage Capitol Cigarette Cigar Lighter Lever Action Steampunk 1912 Patent DateVintage Occupied Japan Cigarette Lighter 1952 Buick Tin/brass Toy Car15pc Dealer Lot Vintage Zippo Lighters - Various *no Reserve*Hamm's Beer Lighter Buck Distributing Co. Vulcan Japan Lighter Very Nice Vintage Antique Working Art Deco Abdulla Automatic Push Button Lighter SmallArt Deco Cigamat Cigarette Lighter 1930 Nice Graphic Girl Smoking Nos In BoxDunhill Vintage Rollagas Lighter Lacquer Black Gold Plated Switzerland W/box (iUnusual Wwi Trench Art Wristwatch Petrol Cigarette Lighter Cigarette Lighter, C1920s.S. T. Dupont Platium Finish Silver Vertical Stripes Lighter Paris France VtgVintage Zippo 'coca-cola' Advertising Lighter Unfired W/box And Instructions The Wailers Bob Marley Catch A Fire Rare Italian 'zippo' Lighter. Sleeve LpVintage Silver Plated Dunhill Lighter Spare Or RepairLot Of 8 Vintage Zippo Cigarette LightersVintage Charming Automatic Working Art Deco Lancel French LighterZippo Dinosaur Brass Lighter12pc Lot Vintage Zippo Lighters - Advertising *no Reserve*Rare Dunhill-cartier Silver Pl. Petrol LighterRare!! Dunhill Rollagas Gold Lines Lighter Silver Box & Paper Authentic [junk]Named Medal Group P47 Pilot Wwii Korea Vietnam Snoopy Japanese Lighter Patches5pc Lot Vintage Zippo Lighters - Us Navy Ships - Various *no Reserve*Vintage Antique Trench Art Brass Erotic Lighter With Nude Woman In Relief 2 SideVintage Antique Trench Art Brass Wwi Ww1 Military Lighter 1914 CannonCartier Ca40404 LighterCopper Zippo Lighter Made In Usa New F-03 1 Dunhill Swiss Made Diamond Cut Silver Plated,1 Mylflam Strato Art Deco Lighter1920s Sterling Silver Art Metal Works - Amw Ronson Lighter De-light StandardAntique Art Deco Silver & Blue Enamel Vanity Set, Compact, Lipstick, Lighter WowDunhill Vintage Rollagas Lighter 70 Gold Plated Made In England T913 Ex 6pc Lot Vintage Zippo Lighters - Us Navy Ships - Various *no Reserve*10pc Dealer Lot Vintage Zippo Lighters - Various *no Reserve*Zippo Brass Venetian Standard Lighter.lovely Cond.oct.1998.spare Cartouche.e.w.cAutomatic Lighter Strato Mylflam Petrol / Briquet Automatique FeuerzeugStunning Zippo Lighter Golden Revolver Special Edition - 18k Dusted Gold Inlays Early Dunhill Lift Arm Lighter Pat. No. 143752Carbide Flint Lighter Ford Model T Brass 1910 1911 1912 1913 1914 1915 1916 1917Vintage Lighters. Lot Of 25, Zippo,coronet,thoro, Scripto Vu & MoreVintage Antique Gorgeous Working Art Deco Trump Enameled Squeeze LighterDunhill Vintage Rollagas Lighter Lacquer Black Gold D Marks Switzerland W/box (hSigned Lalique Vintage "tete De Lion" Head Lighter Frosted Crystal France GlassBrass Enameled Ornate Cameo Lighter Signed "made In Italy" Car-6498Black Watch (the Royal Highlanders) Trench Art Lighter. 1943.Vintage Antique Beautiful Lucky Car Working Lighter Chevy Ford Buick? 1946Zippo Gift Box, Lighter, Flints, And FluidVintage Sterling Silver Bic Lighter Cover. Hand Engraved!Douglass Automatic Pocket Lighter, Silver 1926 (vintage)2003 Solid Copper Zippo Lighter, Marlboro Blend No. 27 New In Box, No Reserve!Original Cased Vintage Gold Plated Swiss Dunhill Lighter In Clean Condition