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    

No Resr Hm 1895 Silver Vesta Case & Miniature Compass Vintage Antique Match SafeClarice Cliff Art Deco Fantasque Cigarette & Match Holder Stunning & RareNo Reser Hm 1906 Silver Vesta & Stamp Case Holder Box Vintage Antique Match SafeAntique Victorian Specimen & Banded Agate & Brass Vesta Box Match Safe Striker Scottish Sterling Silver Edwardian Agate Thistle Vesta Case Matchsafe ChesterExquisite Rare Antique Chinese Export Solid Silver Vesta Case; C18901909 English Hallmarked Sterling Silver Vesta Case.Ornate French Silver Nouveau Victorian Vesta Case ChÂtelaine Matchsafe Match BoxSilver Set Cigarette Case Match Case Russian Original BoxSuperb Rare Antique L1907 Solid Silver Combined Vesta Case & Sealing Wax Holder*no Reserve* Antique Freemasonry Masonic Silver Plate Match Safe Vesta CaseLovely Decorative Antique Victorian 1900 Solid Sterling Silver Vesta Match Case*** Antique Silver Vesta Case // Match Holder Box4 Antique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Match Safe Vesta Cases Gorham, +++Nice Scarce Early Dated Antique Victorian B1880 Solid Sterling Silver Vesta CaseChicago Cubs Baseball Early Antique Advertising Wood Stick Match Safe VestaRedfield International Match Globe Front Sight Many Aperture Inserts In Worn BoxE.f. Johnson Viking Kw Kilowatt Match Box W/ Johnson 250-30 Coupler 1897 Vesta Case - Perry & Co - Victoria's Jubilee"the Oak" Findlay Ohio Billiard Parlor Advertising Match Safe Nice Early 1900 An Interesting Victorian Red Post Box Brass Vesta Case Match Striker HolderRussian Silver Cigarette Case With Match Section 1876 Fine Antique 19thc Victorian Solid Silver Engraved Vesta Case, On Fob RingAntique Victorian Sterling Silver Repousse Relief Scrolls Match Safe VestaLot Of 14 Assorted Chassis Tyco , Curve Hugger,life Like,match Box,afx,auroraVictorian 1902 Sterling Match Safe. Ornate Flower Border Gorham(?) Beautiful!Black Cat Cigarettes Carreras Ltd Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerSterling Silver - Repousse Vesta Match Case (opens!) 9g - Necklace (24") Xe2551Vesta Case Steingoetter Eagle & Franklin Buffalo New YorkAntique Hm1905 Silver Combination Vesta Match Safe Sovereign Case Coin Holder NrAntique Chinese Matchbox Match Box Cover - Opal ~ Amethyst ~ Ruby StonesTrench Art Brass Vesta Case French Shell Centimes Coin Vintage Match Safe 1938Art Nouveau Silver Antique Repousse Match Safe Vesta Case UnmarkedC. 1920 Novelty Gaming Dominoe Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerLarge Ribbed Effect Silver B'ham 1896 Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerRare Solid Silver & Enamel Pictorial Vesta Case - Truth - 1886 Horton & AlldayBeautiful Hand Etched Vesta Case With Horse Decoration - Stamped SterlingBeautiful Edwardian Sterling Silver Vesta Case - Great Collectible - 10.9 GramsCelluloid Advertising Match Safe With Secret Opening The Lion Store Toledo, OhioRare! Pintsch Gas Advertising Sterling Match Safe Railroad Light Mid 1800s Nice1897 Antique 19thc Victorian Solid Silver Engraved Vesta Case, Charles SolomanFine Mid Victorian Egyptian Revival Silver & Brass Go To Bed Match Holder VestaA Large Solid Sterling Silver Vesta Match Case On Plated Chain Birmingham 1919.Superb Victorian Horn Vesta Case With Silver Decoration Opens Both EndsLate Victorian Engraved Solid Silver Vesta Case Hallmarked Birmingham 18931930 Vintage Marbles Arms Flutted Match Safe Vintage Hunting - Gladstone, Mich.Antique Solid Silver Vesta Case Birmingham Gloster 1897Victorian Small Cigars Case Novelty Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerVintage Cast Iron Pecking Bird Match Holder BoxPre War Blues Blind Lemon Jefferson Match Box Blues Okeh 8455 Worn CopyAntique Sterling Silver Repousee Vesta Case/match SafeHazzard's Gold Seal 5c Cigar Advertising Match Safe Fort Wayne, Indiana 1900s Lot 6 Vintage Lighters 1933 Worlds Fair Match Box & Ruler Seigneur Zippo DundeeVictorian German Silver Vesta Match Safe W/ Floral & Ribbon Border Design Nice!Antique Austrian Brass Figural Baby Advertising Vesta Case Palace Hotel AberdeenWw1 Trench Art Royal Flying Corps, Brass Match Box Holder, Named To GreenVesta Case In The Form Of A Horses HoofArt Nouveau Engraved Solid Silver Vesta Case Hallmarked Chester 1908Victorian Silver Vesta Case, 1894Vintage Remington Arms Co. Wooden Ammo Box 22 L/r-r.f. Palma Match Lesmok Powder