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    

Fancy Park Advertising Lighter - Isabella's Restaurant & Lounge - New Castle, PaNew S .t. Dupont L2 Travel In Time Boston Yellow Gold Lighter 016970 $4,200.00 St Dupont Europa L2 LighterSt Dupont Maharadjah LighterSt Dupont Red Teatro LighterSt Dupont Black Teatro LighterSt Dupont Mozaic French Revolution LighterVery Rare Sterling 935 Silver Thorens Petrol Wick LighterMidland Jump Spark Replica Vintage Lighter Similar "it's A Wonderful Life" MovieS.t.dupont Limited Edition Place Vendome Ligne 2 Lighter *display Model-as New*St Dupont Shoot The Moon Linge Line 2 Limited Edition Gold Lighter Brown LacquerCartier Paris Lighter Roy King 18k Gold Red Enamel Lacquer Hand Carving SwissVintage Dunhill 14k Solid Gold Jacket Monogrammed Cigarette Lighter1958 Vintage Zippo Lighter 7 Up Mehler Bottling Works Lighter -unfired - MintLighter Austria 1920 Pino King Feuerzeug Benzinfeuerzeug Lighter Petrollighter1967 Plymouth Road Runner Zippo LighterPair Dunhill Rollagas Lighter London England Vintage Silver Sterling Art Deco Vintage Dunhill Rollalite Lighter 14k Gold Plated Jacket With Case And PapersSt Dupont Art Nouveau By Krill Line 2 Limited Edition Red Gold LighterZippo Lighter Lot 20. Budweiser, Harley, Jack Daniels, EtcDunhill Rollagas Lighter Black Silver Line Lacquer Gas Leaks W/4p Orings & BoxDunhill LighterOrig1940s Alfred Dunhill Sterling Silver Rollalite Cigarette LighterVintage Zippo Vertical Lines W/ Box To Be Monogramed Sterling Silver Lighter Vintage Lighter Thorens Single ClawSt Dupont Collectable Highly Desirable Lighter Box And Documents2002 Zippo Lighter Camel Filters 2 Sided Rare Night Model Mint In BoxWwii Trench Art Six Sided Aluminum Anusual Design Pocket Petrol Unlit LighterLarge Lot Of Zippo Lighter Promotional Materials13 Pc Vintage Cigarette Lighter Collectible Rare Antique Decor Wooden Frame Vintage Cartier Red Onyx 18k Gold Plated Lighter Made In Paris/france Lot Of 29 Zippo Lighters Used (5 Slim / 24 Regular) Vintage Parts LightersMust De Cartier Gas Lighter W/ Original Box Flint & Gas Refill Tank VintageMysteries Of The Forest Brass Lighter Collection &collectible Tin (zippo,1995)Foley & Ruse Pellet Pipe Lighter Toronto 1887 W Cap & Original Full Match BoxCustom Cabon Fiber Themed Humidor, Lighter & Cutter SetVintage Ronson Guilloche Petrol Lighter Boxed,briquet,feuerzeugZippo World War Ii Lighter Collector Set In Case And D-day Collectable In Tin.Very Rare Zippo Lighter 1932-1982☆50th Anniversary Employee Commemorative Set☆ex2005 Zippo Lighter Camel Rjr 3 Piece Greatest Hits Set Great Graphics Rare Set1967 Vintage Zippo Lighter Golf Scene Original Box 16 Hole 7 StrikeOld Art Deco Ronson Touch Tip Lighter Sparks Good Wand Green Felt Brown Bakelite1950's Vntg~alfred Dunhill~sylph Lift Arm Lighter On Orig Mesh (pocketwatch) FobVintage 1920s Silver Plated Fcl Pocket Watch Lighter,briquet,feuerzeugUnusual Small Size Dunhill 1930's Gilt Metal Lift Arm Lighter.Vintage 1920s Thorens Mother Of Pearl Double Claw Lighter,briquet,feuerzeugPetrol LighterGenuine S T Dupont Ligne 1 Small Gold Lighter Boxed Paper Stunning Mint Con #59S T Dupont Line 2 Lighter Black Chinese Lacquer With Rose Gold TrimZippo Red Candy Stripe Lighter Box's 2 Decent 1 Fair 1 Written On 1 Bottom OnlyAntique Thorens Swiss Automatic Crhome Plated Fluid Petrol Lighter Art DecoCollectible 1995 White Marble A Xi Zippo Lighter NewKiss Zippo Lighter Set New Ace Frehley Gene Simmons Peter Criss Paul Stanley NewVintage Lot 52 Lighters Ronson Continental Omega Crown Imperial & More1968 Vietnam War Zippo Lighter Viet Nam Camp Holloday , Shadow Of Death F**kSet Of 4 'mysteries Of The Forest" Zippo LightersAlpha Loop Jr. Magnetic Loop Antenna All Coaxial For Lighter Packing And SetupVintage Lighter Thorens Double ClawSupreme Spectrum Silver Zippo Lighter 2015 F/w Brand New PinstripeRare!! Alfred Dunhill Beautiful" Blue Lacquer X Gold Lighter Vintage Nr