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    

Dunhill Lift Arm Sterling Silver Black Enamel Art Deco Pocket Petrol LighterDunhill Savory Small Size Petrol LighterZippo 7 Wonders Of The World Special Vip Set Number 444/1000 All 8 Lighters Vintage Tiffany Sterling Silver Basket Weave Design Slim Cigarette LighterFabulous Deco Solid 9 Carat Gold Dunhill Mk 1 Rollboy LighterS.t. Dupont Paris Red Opus X Limited Edition No. 478/650 Lighter (4212)Trench Art, Petrol Can Lighter, EssoDunhill Solid 18ct Gold Unique A Watch Lighter Petrol Wick Lighter 1929 N/r Iconic Odeon Style Genuine Art Deco Phenolic Catalin Cigarette Lighter AntiqueVintage Gold Plated Rollagas Dunhill Lighter,swiss Made,good Condition.Imperial Japanese Sword Identification Book Pre Ww2 Army Vtg Navy Tsuba GuntoOriginal Rare Zippo 1936-37 Lighter Pat. 2032695 4 Barrel Hinge Square Flat Bot19thc Antique Hallmarked Sterling Silver & Cut Glass Cigar Lighter Oil Lamp NrLot Of 6 Ww1/ww2 Military Trench Lighters. Sterling Silver Dunhills Bowers, ImcoSolly Baby Wrap - Bamboo - Lighter Than Moby Wrap/sling/carrierS.t. Dupont Paris Black Opus X Limited Edition No. 030/650 Lighter (4211)Camel 1996 Rjrtc Zippo Lighter With Tin Original 1932 Replica Second ReleaseVtg Old Sherwin Williams Paint Zippo Lighter Advertising, 2517191 Pat.Vtg Huge Lighter Lot Zippo Ronson Evans Trench Flint Lock Pistol Cannon Over 100Lot Of 4 Antique/vintage Ronson Art Metal Works Lighters/ Art DecoAuthentic S.t. Dupont Large 18k Gold Plated Chinese Lacquer Lighter *rare*Large Lot Vtg Zippo Lighters Camel Marlboro Harley Davidson OtherVtg Thorens Lighter Retro British Patent January 29 1920 No 137508 Petrol 20sVintage Chrome Plated Thorens Swiss Made Petrol LighterGv-6 Railroad Flask --a Lighter Golden AmberS.t. Dupont Paris Versailles Limited Edition Lighter With Box & Papers (4215)Old Vintage Lighter By Dunhill Signature Cigar Cigarette With A Box Large 15th Century German Style Bronze Lion Aquamanile Oil Lamp & Lighter C.1880Antique Lighter Rare Thorens Suisse Ministere Des FinancesVintage Slag Glass Art Deco Lamp Smoking Stand / Floor Ashtray W/ Cigar LighterLot Of 10 Vintage Zippo LightersAuthentic Cartier Gold Plaque LighterDunhill Rollagas Lighter & Paper Silver Plated Swiss 18603 100% AuthenticCartier "santos" Lighter Vintage Mad Silver 100% Authentic Made In SwissVintage Ww2 Zippo Black Crackle Lighter Pat 2032695 Old Boxed Colibri Solid Silver 800 Decorative 'one Hand Lighter' Buick : Grand National Regal 1987 Buick Regal We4 Turbo Charged 3.8 Intercooled Lighter Than Grand NationalRare Ca 1915 Hahway German Lighter Used By Ww2 Raf Airman Sqd 635 - No ReserveVintage Dunhill Unique Butane Lighter Gold Plated Made In England No Reserve!!!Ronson Touch-tip Deluxe Lighter With ClockDunhill Solid Silver Bijou LighterOld Vintage Lighter By Alfred Dunhill Cigar Cigarette With A Box J-1994 Sculptured Series Golden Race Car On Gold Plated Zippo Lighter New W/boxDunhill Diamond Cut Vintage Rollagas Lighter 100% Authentic Gold Plated Nice Old Brass & Copper Ww1 Trench Art Penny Cannon Lighter, Still WorksDunhill Rollagas Vintage Fantastic Design Lighter Brown Gold 100% AuthenticVintage Cartier Dunhill Cigarette Lighter Made In England1960’s Designer Sterling Silver Zippo Lighter Made By Tiffany & Company Rare Kay-ess (kaschie) Sophisticate Lighter, Germany, Near Mint In Box, C. 1946Vintage 1961 Cuc Computer Usage Company Zippo Lighter In Original Box & Booklet Ornate Vtg Antique Sterling Silver 950 Zippo Case And Lighter Insert; Cigarette Midland Jump Spark Cigar Lighter1938 Antique Sterling Silver Lighter Watch Clock With Cigarette CaseS.t. Dupont Paris 1001 Nights Limited Edition Lighter W/ Box & Papers (4213)Automatic Cigarette Puffer Lighter Original 1940 €Zippo Lighter Marlboro High Polish Brass 1999 NewVintage Nos Rare Promotional Accessory "barlow Ac Spark Plug Cigarette Lighter" Highly Graphic Walt Disney 1973 Zippo Lighter - The Magic Castle Of DisneylandDunhill Pipe Lighter *new Never Used* *from Iwan Ries & Co.* Pristine0-2013 Sterling Silver Reveler Zippo Lighter Very Nice! New W/hinged Gift Box