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    

Ww2 Trench Art Military Hand Grenade Cigarette Lighter - World War 2 Trenchart2unusual Vintage Lift Arm Cigarette Lighters Patent Maurice & Brummell AluminiumSuper Rare Thorens Cigarette Pipe Lighter Swiss With French Tax Stamp 1982 50th Anniversary Zippo Lighter Gift Set Brass 37 Model Fuel Can Flints BoxNever Used~1973~zippo Cigarette Lighter~camel Gt Challenge~5 Color Graphics~mib!1940s Zippo Cigarette Lighter W 3 Barrel Hinge + Patent DateEmployee Only 75th Anniversary Zippo Lighter Mint In Box Very LimitedZippo R.i.p. Vintage Skulls Lighter Emblem Rare And Awesome CollectibleZippo Lighter Brass Special Edition Uss Iowa Bb-61 Usn Navy Ship BattleshipVintage Zippo 3 Barrel Lug Lighter 2032695 American Steel & Wire Co Uss In BoxVintage Zippo 3 Barrel Chrome Lighter Pat 2032695Vintage Alfred Dunhill Lighter In Original Case New Old StockVintage Zippo Lighter Lot 37 Bodies 11 Inserts Brass 3 Barrel Parts Or RestoreEstate Junk Drawer Lot , Watches, Lighters, Tie Clips, Cufflinks And More1987 Vintage Zippo Solid Brass Lighter-san Francisco Golden Gate Bridge-nmib1940's Zippo Town And Country " Geese " Lighter1967 $3.50 Priced Mint Brushed Chrome Zippo Lighter MibLot Of 2 Miniature Sterling Silver LightersDelightful Vintage Art Deco Design Parker Cigarette Lighter & Cigarette HolderCamel 1932 2nd Release Zippo Lighter New Old Stock 96 In Original Tin Rare 16 Vintage Antique Pre-flint Cap Pocket Lighters Made Before 1900Russian Solid Silver Vesta Case Lighter St Petersburg Tobacco Box 19th CigaretteVintage 1956 1st Zippo Slim Cobra Head Dennison Co. Display Box & Lighter!!!Dunhill Rollagas Lighter Hand Carved White Red Gold Lacquer & Parts W/3p OringsV8 Ford 1932-1933-1934 Accessory Cigar Lighter Mk-307Dunhill Rollagas Lighter Silver Vintage England Rare Gas Leak W/3p O-ringsVintage 1950's Silver Nickel 3 Barrel Zippo LighterFantastic Unused Winchester Zippo Lighter With BoxSt Dupont Line 1 Large Gold Plated Lighter, Case & Paperwork. Hobnail Cut 1977Automatic Mart's Lighter Rare ,unusual Mechanism Push Button Safety Like ThorensKb Fork Czechoslovakia - Semi-automatic LighterZippo Marlboro Star 1989 - Used LighterJump Spark Cigar Lighter, Antique Cigar Lighter, Vintage Cigar LighterJump Spark Cigar Lighter, Antique Cigar Lighter, Vintage Cigar LighterFantastic Unused Silver Plate Winchester Zippo Lighter #471/500 With Walnut BoxVintage Ronson Qantas Varaflame Cigarette Lighter & Service Outfit Tin1995 Zippo Lighter Silver Plated Varga Girl In Wood Box Mint Condition Vintage Circa 1950's Zippo Lighter Marathon, The Ohio Oil Co. New In Box Very RaAntique 1926 Patent Clark Paltinum Plate Cigarette Lighter.windodger,lift Arm Nr1996 Zippo Lighter Limited Edition #5 Of 50 Lossproof 50's Box Mint In BoxVintage Sterling Silver Zippo Cigarette Lighter1996 Zippo Lighter Robot Zippo Limited Edition #5/50 Brushed Chrome Mint In BoxWwii (pat. 1937) Zippo Round Bottom 3 Barrel 14 Hole Cigarette Lighter Fantastic Unused Winchester Model 1886 Zippo Lighter With BoxAntique German Silver Cased Petrol Lighter - Scroll & Floral Decoration!!Antique Swiss Silver Dunhill Unique Sports Cigarette Lighter. No Reserve!1997 Zippo Lighter Limited Edition #5 Of 50 Slim Green Silver Box Mint In BoxRare Unfired 3 Barrel Hinge Zippo Cigarette Lighter Lossproof Tach-a-loop Sport1953 Vintage Zippo Lighter Mint W/boxLine Drawn 1948 Zippo Lighter 203 Patent- 3 Barrel Hinge–dalco Appliance CompanyVictorian English Sterling Silver Vesta Cigarette Lighter 1900. Charles Lyster.Levi's Cowboy C.1960 Vintage Flat Cigarette Lighter - Excellent ConditionCamel Zippo LighterVintage Zippo Sterling Silver Case Pat Pend 251719 Cigarette LighterVintage 1950 Zippo Advertising Lighter White Rose Oil237) Zippo Lighter D-day 60th Anniv 'sands Of Normandy' 3 Pc. Set New Unstruck1920 Semi-automatic Lighter Mclaughlin's T.m. Imperator Made In U.s.a.1940's Boeing Pat 2032695 Zippo LighterZippo Limited Golden Stocking Girl Lighter - Stunning Brass Brushed Emblem Rare Vintage Scripto Vu Cigarette Lighter Pinup Bathing Beauty