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    

Japanese Antique Vestal Match Holder Shibayama Wasp Snail BugVictorian Sterling Silver Chatelaine = Compact Mirror Stamp Case Match Vesta NrLovely Rare English Antique L1897 Novelty Solid Sterling Silver Vesta Match BoxUnusual Old Sterling Silver Vesta Case With Enamel Rose Flower Matchsafe 1895Solid Silver Engraved Vesta / Match Case,2/lieut Shee,machine Gun Corps 1917Vintage Adv Tin Match Holder Stulz Bros Kansas City Missouri T T BittersAntique Fully English Hallmarked Solid Silver & Enamel Vesta CaseAntique Russian Silver 84 Cloisonne Enamel Vesta Case.Antique Figural Bronze Nun Match Safe Holder Dispenser Made In France C. 1860,sVictorian Travelling Candle Box Holder Desktop Writing Light Carriage VestaLovely Rare Antique Victorian C1885 Mauchline Tartan Ware Vesta Case & Go To BedAntique Decorated Solid Sterling Silver Card/cigarette Vesta Case 1918Battin & Co Hidden Photo Sterling Silver Match Safe Vesta Box Nouveau Victorian Antique Victorian Scottish Scotland Banded Agate Vesta Match Safe Snuff BoxVictorian Antique Sterling Silver Vesta Match Safe Case Miniature Figural FlaskVintage Indian Motorcycle Copper Match Book HolderRare & Beautiful Solid Silver Enamel Niello Austrian Vesta Case G.a.s 1882-1898Antique Edwardian Ornately Engraved Sterling Silver Vesta Case Match SafeArt Nouveau American Sterling .925 Silver Vesta Case Circa 1900Antique Mechanical Bird Americana Match Safe Holder Counter Dispenser C. 1880,s1919 Asprey Of London Matchbox Cover Vesta Case Solid Sterling Silver 44mmx29mmAntique 20thc Sterling Silver Combination Vesta / Sovereing Case - Birm 1909Unusual Solid Silver Trick / Hidden Opening Vesta Case / Snuff Box Ldon 1868 WsFrench Secessionist Victorian Tin Vesta Case Wall Mounted Match Box AllumettesOld Vintage Fancy Sterling Silver Match Holder / Matchsafe #813x - 31 GramsAntique Victorian Engraved Sterling Silver Match Safe Holder Chatelaine Fob NrAntique Decorated Match Holder, Vesta Case, C.1880Rare Solid Silver Edwardian Old English Sheep Dog Vesta Case Willian Neale 1903Solid Sterling Silver Vesta Case / Match Safe - Dog - Hallmarked Birmingham 1926Superb Rare Design English Antique B1907 Solid Sterling Silver Vesta Match CaseAntique Edwardian Solid Silver Vesta Case & Watch Chain Pocket Watch Keys FobAntique 1881 Birmingham England Sterling Silver Chatelaine Vesta Match Safe1907 Antique Solid Silver Vesta Case For Albert Watch Chain HallmarkedAntique Painted Novelty Bronze Vesta Case/match Safe Of A Pug DogTurn Of The Cent Victorian Figural Silver Bundle Of Cigars Vesta Case Match SafeAntique Figural Bronze Bear Match Safe Holder Dispenser Made In France C. 1880,sVictorian Solid Silver Vesta Case, Birm 1901, By Joseph Gloster.Heavy George Iv Silver Table Snuff Box & Vesta Holder London 1822 (189g)Silver Birmingham 1894 George Unite Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerWhites Of Utica Stoneware Match Holder/striker-cobalt Blue Bands1st Ww Tench Art Vesta Case Artillery RegCoca Cola Porcelain Match Holder Coca Cola Die Cut Porcelain Match Holder Ltd EdAntique Avery & Son Redlitch Brass Repousse Irish Setter Dog Pin Snuff Match BoxLate Victorian Silver Birmingham 1900 Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerVictorian Silver Vesta Case - Birmingham 1898 - Henry PopeAntique Art Nouveau Floral Sterling Silver Vesta Match SafeAntique Mintons Match Striker Holder Bass In Bottle Brewery Burton On TrentBrown Vulcanite Edward Vii Coronation Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerFine London Sterling Silver & Cut Glass Match Holder Strike Paperweight BaccaratBoer War Macintyre Match Striker / Holder ~ A Gentleman In KharkiWatson ~sartyr Faces~ Sterling Silver Match Safe Vesta Box Nouveau Victorian 1912 Solid Sterling Silver Vesta Case-chester Hallmark-unusual Raised DesignRare Asprey Silver Match BoxAntique Victorian Scottish Scotland Banded Agate Vesta Match SafeArt Deco Marble Match Striker Holder Lapis Lazuli Carved Model Figure Of A BoyNice 19th Century Japanese Vesta Case - Seashell DecorationAsprey & Co Antique Sterling Silver Vesta Match Case Hallmarked London 1915Beautiful Decorative English Antique 1912 Solid Sterling Silver Vesta Match CaseVictorian Solid Silver Vesta Case, Birm 1893, By Minshull & Latimer.Exquisite Antique Hallmarked Sterling Art Nouveau Repouss