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    

Delightful Antique Silver Hand Painted Enamel Vesta Case Collie Dogs Superb Rare English Antique 1898 Solid Silver Combination Vesta & Sovereign CaseDelightful Antique Silver Enamel Cigarette Case And Vesta Hand Painted Dogs19thc Tin Boot Figural Match Holder With Original Painted SurfaceSterling Silver Cheroot & Vesta CaseAntique Patd 1869 Cast Iron Match Safe Holder W/ Hunting Pointer Dog, NrScarce Antique Victorian Eagle Vesta Case Wonderful Patina And Detail Circa 1880Vintage Knapp Sport Saw Match Safe & Cutco 1069 Hunting / Fishing Knife & CaseRare Antique Solid Sterling Silver Snuff Box Match Vesta Case Combo London 1863Rare Antique Victorian B1894 Solid Silver & Green Agate Irish Design Vesta CaseAntique Victorian Ornate Shoe Vesta Case Go To Bed Match Safe Striker Late 1800sAntique Penny Match Machine Or Match DispenserEarly 20thc Boston Terrier Dog Figural Match Holder Rare Original Signed " Bergman " Bronze Squirrel On Tree Stump Match Holder SafeAntique Brass Horseshoe Design Novelty Vesta Case Horse ShoeStylish Antique 1919 Silver Vesta Case By W.j Myatt & Co BirminghamAntique Bronze Advertising " Detroit Stove Works " Beetle Bug Match Holder SafeIsle Of Wight Studio Glass Black Azurene Match Holder Silver Rim Timothy HarrisAntique Brass Vesta Case / Match Safe Owl Circa 1910-20An Antique Sterling Silver Vesta Case Birmingham 1907Large Antique Cast Iron Desk Top Inkwell / Match / Dip Pen Holder Cir. 1870,sNear Mint Condition In Box 1908 De Laval Wall Hanging Match Safe - Beautiful!Antique Bronze Brass Bear Vesta Match Holder Striker Got To Bed Glass Eyes C19thSilver Pocket Match Safe Vesta Devil Head Satan Diablo Lucifer Occult 1800,sAdvertising Giesecke Brand Shoes St Louis Mo Match Holder Nice PieceAntique Estate Sterling Repousse Lotus Lily Pad Gorham Match Holder Vesta SafeRare Vintage Brass Owl Vesta Case Antique Vesta Case Sailor Box Scrimshaw Sea Ship Gibraltar Thistle Lumsden NameAntique Pig Vesta Case & Inside 3 Small Antique & Vintage Pig PendantsAntique Coin-op Penny Vending Match DispenserStunning! Hallmarked Silver 'golfer' Vesta Case Birm.1910.Sterling Silver Vesta CaseAntique Victorian Cast Brass Figural Monkey Mechanical Match Holder Stricker Antique Sterling Silver Wine Theme Grapes Pocket Match Safe Vesta C. 1800,sAntique Bryant & May Cast Iron Donkey Match Box Holder / Striker Circa 1885Wunup Baccyflap, Bakelite, Pocket, Tobacco Box & Match StrikerEnglish Sterling Match Safe, Age 1909, C.j. & Co. Cigarette & Vesta CasesLego Harry Potter 4737 - Quidditch Match Retired Mint-in-sealed-box SetMarx Polka Dot Box U.s. Combat Soldiers - Color MatchAntique Cast Iron Doggy Go To Bed Match Holder / Watch Stand, Vesta, 19.cLego Harry Potter 4737 - Quidditch Match Retired Mint-in-sealed-box SetRare Antique Presentation Vesta Case Police Photo Brooch Poss Military UnusualV.nice! Silver Plated 'crossed Rifles' Vesta Case C.1900's.Wonderful Antique Pharaohs Horses Pyrography Wooden Match Holder Art Nouveau19thc Antique Silver Vesta Case Harvard Polo Club Match Safe Horse Usa MatchsafeVintage Advertising Celluloid Match Safe The Ironsides Company Silver Masonic Vesta Case (19a)1920s Mechanical Figural Mule Metal Cigarette Dispenser W Match Box Holder Elegant Antique Ornate Silver Plated Vesta Case In Good ConditionVictorian Advertising Vesta Case / Match Safe "the Ram Wandsworth" - London PubWell Made Antique Oval Silver Plated Vesta Case In Good ConditionVintage Cast Metal Woodpecker On Log Toothpick Or Match HolderSterling Silver Kirk & Son Repousse Floral Match Box Holder Case 2 4 With MbWw1 Trench Art - Brass Match / Matchbox Holder - Arras France.Antique Match Safe Holder Vesta Striker 800 Silver Horse & Turquoise LatchEtrusco World Cup Italy 1990 Oficial Match Ball With Box. No Tango No DurlastArts & Crafts Period Copper Match Safe W/spiders & Ants In ReliefAntique Vtg Repousse Art Nouveau Match Vesta Safe Case Ornate Man WomanSkagway Alaska Town Hall Saloon Wood Stick Match Safe Vesta HolderCandle Matches By Roche & Cie Grand Prix, Paris 1900, Match Box, Match Safe