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    

Vintage C.1910 Old Hickory Wagons Farm Metal Match Holder Feed & Seed Sign"victorian Solid Silver Compass Vesta Case" Chester 1898 Very Rare LargeVictorian Neillo Silver Vesta Case Pill Snuff Box Marker Geroge Adam Scheid Antique Gas Station Cigarette Match Vendor 1 Cent Advertising Match HolderRare Combination Solid Silver Vesta & Sovereign Case Match Safe Matchsafe 1899Vesta/sovereign Combination CaseAntique C1890 Victorian Niello Silver Jack Russel Enamel Dog Go 2 Bed Vesta CaseAntique Victorian Style Sterling Silver Spaniel Dog Vesta CaseVintage C.1908 De Laval Cream Separators Dairy Farm Metal Match Safe Sign W/boxExtremely Rare Solid Silver Enamel Sampson Mordan Victorian Vesta Case 1887Rare & Beautiful Solid Silver Art Nouveau French Vesta Case Circa 1890Indian Motorcycles Highest Honors 1904-1915 Match Safe Holder. Hard To FindAntique Art Deco 1922 Bham Sterling Silver Enamel Lady In Boudoir Vesta Case1898 Antique Solid Silver Bright Cut Engraved Vesta Case BoxAntique 1897 Bham Victorian Sterling Silver Enamel Stamp Vesta CaseNike Kevin Durant New Kd Vi Orange 11.5 With Box And 2 Match Socks Victorian Silver Vesta Case 1894 Birmingham George Unite Victorian Punch Brass Go To Bed Brass Vesta Case Superb Antique Solid Siver Floral Pattern Vesta Case By Samuel M Levi Date 1904Victorian Silver Vesta Case - Birmingham 1897 - Mitchell BosleyMetropolitan Police Solid Silver Match Box Holder Cover 1918 Hallmarked SterlingVintage Fishing Creel Novelty Vesta CaseVintage Eagle Head Match Safe HolderRare Antique Imperial Russian 84 Zolotnik Silver Vesta Cigarette Case 1910Antique Victorian Style Brass Scarrab Beetle Smokers Vesta CaseAntique Hanging Match & Whisk Broom Holder Embossed Tin 1883 Mirror 2 Match BinsAn Antique Or Vintage English Silver Hallmarked Vesta Case Fob. Scrap Or Repair.Vintage Figural Lion Match Safe Or Holder!Sterling Silver Vesta Case 1906Estate Lot Antique Sterling Silver Vinaigrette Match Box Covers Cane Handle +Antique Match Safe John Deere AdvertisingAntique 1900 Bham Victorian Sterling Silver Enamel Lady Face Smokers Vesta CaseVintage Marbles Gladstone Wooden Match HolderSuperb! Vintage Marble's Match-stick Holder Gladstone, Mich - Pat'd 1900 L@@k!Solid Silver Vesta Case Eqeustrian Scene4 Antique Solid Silver Vesta Cases & Solid Silver Powder/patch BoxRare Bar Bum Cast Metal Drunk Railroad Hobo Matchsafe, Striker & Bottle OpenerAntique Vintage Lot Of 2 Brass Match Safe Case Holders Ornate Floral No Reserve Vintage 60's S.t. Dupont Gold Plated & Chinese Lacquer Lighter Paris France Beautiful English Antique B1911 Solid Sterling Silver Vesta Match CaseAntique 1886 Joseph A Faris American Portrait Oil Painting, Boy W/ Matches NrJob Lot Antique / Vintage Items Silver Vesta Trinket Box Bronze Lizard ServietteAntique Porcelain Apollinaris Match Striker Holder Germany Advertising Water CoVintage Solid Silver Vesta Case 49grams Of Silver Ca232Superb Solid Silver Vesta Case Birmingham 1909Vintage, Sterling Silver Match Safe, Beautiful Lady And Floral Design, "jr"1920 Silver Vesta Case /john RoseAntique Victorian Style Sterling Silver Spaniel Dog Vesta CaseAntique Metal Sitting Gentleman Go To Bed Vesta Match Safe CaseTopps Match Attax 2014/2015 Exclusive Collectors Box Plus 263 Yes 263 Base CardsAntique Cast Iron Turtle Animal Figural Vtg Match Safe Unique Rare ArtifactIndian War Era Match Holder In Shape Of Soldier's Knapsack - 2" -great Cond.Vintage Asian Vesta Case / Match Safe With Musician And Compass InsertVintage Asian Vesta Case Or Match Safe With A Woman And MonkeyWedgwood Primrose Terra Cotta Jasper Match Safe Box Rare2 19th C Antique French Bistro Pyrogenes Match-strikers Match Holders AbsintheAntique Round Match & Whisk Broom Holder Embossed Tin W Mirror 2 Match BinsVintage Silver Vesta Case - Birmingham 1912 - Joseph GlosterAntique Oliver Hart Parr Tractor Match Holder Conquest Saskatchewan AdvertisingVintage Celluloid Match Safe Vista Hunting Shotgun Liquor New Albany Indiana