Vintage cigarette lighters are among the most popular collectibles today, both for their aesthetic value and brand associations. There are two different form factors available: table top and pocket lighters.
First invented in 1823 and then improved in the 1880s, pocket cigarette lighters became as common as keys or wallets by the 1930s. The three basic types of vintage lighters include manual (flint and wheel spark ignites a wick or creates a flame above a gas valve), semi-automatic (wheel also opens the fuel source cover), and automatic (requires only a button push).
The first lighters were called strike lighters and were similar to matches. Users would scratch a flint with a wand with a hard metal tip and a wick at the end. It would create s...
By the 1920s, lighters had become functional as well as artistic with the advent of the semiautomatic lighter, where the user flips open the lid and a flint wheel simultaneously spins and ignites the wick. The automatic lighter was created by Louis Aronson (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. Up through WWII, most lighters ran on Naptha, a petroleum mixture. After WWII, Naptha was replaced by compressed butane.
Early electric lighters were made of ceramic. They plugged into a house element and the bottom would get hot.
To attract women in the 1930s, some companies (especially Ronson) created lighters that combined various elements, such as cigarette cases and compacts, and added rhinestones or enameled designs.
Lighters come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, from slick, elegant designs to novelty items, such as lighters that look like lipstick cases or little TV sets. Some lighters incorporate materials from notable manufacturers, such as glass from Lalique and china from Lenox. In the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, Ronson produced the Ronson Master Pack, which combined a lighter, cigarette case, and watch.
Other key brands for lighter collectors include Zippo, Dunhill, Penguin, Colibri, ST Dupont, Scripto, and Evans.
Interviews & Articles
At the very beginning, my interest in lighters was about the mechanism. I had my first lighter when I was 14. I saved up my nickel… [more]
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Clubs & Associations: Tobacciana
- North American Society of Pipe Collectors
- The Cigarette Pack Collectors' Association
- On The Lighter Side
- The Cigarette Packet Collectors Club of Great Britain
- The Rathkamp Matchcover Society