Match holders, also known as matchsafes or vesta cases, date to the mid-19th century, when friction matches were first introduced. While a boon to cigar-puffing fat cats and homemakers alike, early friction matches, which were also called vestas and Lucifers, almost did their job too well, sometimes bursting into flame in a user’s pocket. Matchsafes keep these hair-trigger fire sticks from rubbing together and combusting prematurely.

The golden age of matchsafes was around 1870 until the 1930s, when matchbooks and cigarette lighters obviated the need for most match holders. At home, wall and tabletop matchsafes were used, primarily by women for domestic uses such as lighting a stove. In fact, stove manufacturers often made cast-iron match holders, which were mounted to a wall in the kitchen to keep the matches handy. Other wall-mounted matchsafes were made of tin and featured lithographed advertisements for everything from soda pop to whiskey to sliced bread.

In the late 1800s, men carried matchsafes in their coat pockets. These accessories were often more ornately decorated than their pocket watches or their wives’ jewelry. Many were made of sterling silver, embossed or engraved with images of people smoking or abstract patterns resembling smoke. Others were wrought of gold and inlaid with enamel scenes or decorations, and a few matchsafes were carved from antler or ivory.

By the turn of the century, it was becoming more permissible for women to smoke in public, so matchsafes designed for this expanding new market came to the fore. The New York jeweler Tiffany & Company sold sterling silver matchsafes accented with copper and brass and decorated in the Art Nouveau style. Gorham, Bristol, and Whiting are among the many American silver manufacturers that produced matchsafes, while Cartier and Fabergé exported their products from overseas.

Beyond rectangles and ovals, whose lengths conformed nicely to the shapes of friction matches, matchesafes were made in the shapes of animals, shoes, boots, and even body parts, resembling charms on a bracelet. Other matchsafes were treated like canvases for tiny sporting, rural, or city scenes, rendered in warm, inviting enamels.

One category of matchsafes that also appeals to those who collect Asian antiques includes pieces in copper, lacquered metal, and brass that were made in China and Japan. These handsome objects were decorated with dragons, buddhas, and geishas, as well as bamboo foliage and other nature motifs.

Perhaps the most prevalent of all matchsafes were those used to carry advertising or commemorate a noteworthy event. Matchsafes invited their holders to use certain lawn mowers, wear particular brands of hats, and drink this or that brand of tea. Naturally many promoted cigars and cigarettes, as well as international expositions and world’s fairs.


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    

1900~old Judson~antique Lithograph Whiskey Advertising Tin Match Holder Safe~Antique Rare Enamel Solid Silver Art Deco Match Case 1937 Birmingham Pen Nibs Box Old Dip Victorian Gilded Leonardt & Co Miniature Book Vesta 1347mAntique Enamel Solid Silver Art Deco Match Case 1931 Birmingham Alfred ClarkX Rare C.1880 Sterling Silver Whistle & Match Case Box Vesta No Reserve EstateSuper Quality Antique Silver Vesta Case Pocket Watch Fob Hallmarked Circa 1896An Antique Brass " Pocket Watch " Wax Vesta Case / Match Box..dice..gamblingAntique Victorian Iron Metal Vesta Case As Flat Iron C Late 1800'sSuperb Quality Turkish Match Striker Holder Vesta Case Go To Bed Brass Bronze1901 Hm Silver Enamel Stamp Vesta CaseLovely Engraved Solid Silver 1908 Edwardian Vesta Case By W.j. MyattOrnate Nickel Victorian Vesta Case Matchsafe Match Holder Pristine ConditionVintage Sylvac Green Satin Matt Pottery Rabbit Spill Holder Match Strike #1064Adidas Teamgeist Official Match Ball (with Box)Antique Silver Vesta Case Match Striker Pocket Watch Fob Unusual Shape Cir 1900Antique George V Coronation Vesta Case Match CaseEmbossed Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Vesta CaseVintage Brass Standing Pig Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerFine! 1890 Meiji Japanese Shakudo Mixed Metal Bronze & Gold Matchsafe VestaSilver Plate Garden Bird Vesta Case Match SafeVintage Wild Boar Novelty Southend Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerAntique P.j. O'hare Camp Perry National Match Cartridge Box, Collector ConditionTrench Art Brass German Zeppelin Vesta Case Match Safe Plane Shell Case AircraftEdwardian Fob Chain With Vesta Case & Medallian Birm. Hallmarked1893 - Victorian - Rolason Brothers - Solid Silver - Vesta CaseRare Antique Novelty Buckle Shape Vesta Case Match Safe Gold Gilt Metal GeorgianWonderful Late Victorian Silver Golf Vesta Case 1901.Antique Quality Art Nouveau Silver Plated Ribbed 'radiator' Vesta Case C1890'sEmbossed Silver Plate Elephant Vesta CaseJapanese Brass Oval Vesta Case Matchsafe Onagadori A Kind Of Chicken PyrogRare Brass Monkey With Fruit Vesta CaseAntique Art Nouveau France Silver Pocket Match Safe Vesta Case HolderSilver Plate Garden Bird Vesta Case Match SafeGucci Icons Premiere Boxed Gift Set New Parfum Box Medal/horsebit Match Ur Bags!Vintage Queen Victoria Vulcanite Book Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe Striker1921 Hm Silver & Enamel Match Holder/caseVery Rare Victorian Antique Brass Novelty Mouse Go To Bed Vesta Match Safe Nr Embossed Silver Plate Elephant Vesta CaseMarbles Knives Sportsman's Gift Set/kit ~ Match Safe & Compass ~ Vintage ~ NibAdvertising Cast Iron Match Safe Holder Charles Parker Original No ReproAn Ornate Enamelled Vesta CaseCoach Brown Signature C Logo Checkbook Cover Holder Match Ur Handbag Great ShapeVintage Queen Victoria Profile Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerAntique Sterling Silver Match Vesta Case Holder Figural Clam Shell Very Rare EcEmbossed Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Vesta Case Bulldog Design Old Tin Advertising Delaval Match Holder From Old Farmhouse~A Stunning Antique Solid Sterling Silver Edwardian Match Box Holder Bir 1903.Embossed Sterling Silver Vesta CasePlayers Navy Cut Sailor Hero Lifeboat Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerSolid Silver Novelty Standing Pig Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerLarge Sterling Silver Masonic Vesta CaseArt Nouveau German Nickel Silver Plate Vesta Match SafeC. 1880 Brass Candle Holder Carriage Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerSuperb ~ Silver Plated ~ So-to-bed Vesta Case & Candle Holder ~ C1890 Indianapolis Brewing Co. "tonica" Brass Match Safe Pre-pro In Nice Conditiom !!Sterling Silver Match Safe Vesta Art Nouveau Repousse Grapes & GrapevinesNovelty Vesta Box In The Form Of A Padlock. C1900-10.Vtg Match Safes One Has Great AdvertizingVintage C.1910 Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum Candy Metal Match Holder Safe SignGilt Metal & Enamel Vesta Case/match Safe