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    

Nice Old Cast Iron Coin Op Counter Top Advertising Match Vending Machine 1910Scottish Sterling Silver Edwardian Agate Thistle Vesta Case Matchsafe ChesterSuperb Antique Japanese Brass Figural Monkey Ape Vesta Case Matchsafe VictorianRare Delaval Cream Separator Tin Litho Advertising Match Holder SafeOrnate French Silver Nouveau Victorian Vesta Case ChÂtelaine Matchsafe Match BoxE.f. Johnson Viking Kw Kilowatt Match Box W/ Johnson 250-30 Coupler Superb 19thc Ernst Bohne Blackamoor Male Head, Match Holder With Striker C1880sSuperb Rare Antique L1907 Solid Silver Combined Vesta Case & Sealing Wax HolderVictorian Small Cigars Case Novelty Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerSilver Match Holder With Birmingham Hallmark Dated 1905 - Henry Matthews - 23.3gC. 1920 Novelty Gaming Dominoe Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerAntique Hm1905 Silver Combination Vesta Match Safe Sovereign Case Coin Holder NrChicago Cubs Baseball Early Antique Advertising Wood Stick Match Safe VestaBoots Cash Chemists Rare Advertising Match Vesta Horses Head 1900sSuperb London Sterling Silver Match Vesta Case By Joseph Hirst 1887Vtg Art Nouveau George W Shiebler Co Sterling Silver Vesta Match Case | G Antique Figural Bronze Painted Mouse Match Holder Vesta Safe 1800,s GermanyWw1 Trench Art Royal Flying Corps, Brass Match Box Holder, Named To GreenStunning Solidsilver Vesta Case Birmingham 1896Art Nouveau Engraved Solid Silver Vesta Case Hallmarked Birmingham 1901International Harvester Match SafeFine Vintage Continental Silver & Sapphire Matchbook Vesta Case Match BoxSterling Silver Gilbert Vesta Case Or Match Safe W/ Beautiful Woman English Sterling Silver Antique Victorian Vesta Case Matchsafe Match Snuff BoxMatch Pair 300b Cetron/ Western Electric, Original Box, Test PerfectSmokey Bear Norcrest Ceramic Small Cookie Jar Bank? Match Holder? Figurine 10"h Black Cat Cigarettes Carreras Ltd Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerSolid Silver Antique Vesta Case 19th Century Chester For Cigarette Or Cigar 1905 Lewis & Clark World's Fair Exposition Antique Advertising Match Safe VestaSchafer & Vater Ugly Grin Match Holder German Bisque Porcelain Antique Ashtray Antique Hallmarked Sterling Silver Round Vesta Case In Good Working Order,hm1914Late Victorian Engraved Solid Silver Vesta Case Hallmarked Birmingham 1893Vesta Sovereign Stamp Case 1887 Silver Pl Victorian Matchsafe Patent 4709 Art Nouveau Engraved Solid Silver Vesta Case Hallmarked Chester 1908Trench Art Brass Vesta Case French Shell Centimes Coin Vintage Match Safe 1938*no Reserve* Antique Tiffany Silver Match Safe W/ United States Silver CoinsVintage Brass Vesta Case, With Pig On The Top Of Lid .Old Hawaii Pantheon Saloon Antique Advertising Cigar Cutter & Match Safe VestaAntique Austrian Brass Figural Baby Advertising Vesta Case Palace Hotel AberdeenAntique Old Connecticut Hartford Fire Ins, Adv Turtle, Match Holder, PaperweightAntique Sterling Silver Engrave Decorated Hinged Top Book Match Case Dated 1929Vintage 50's Kool Cigarettes Tin Advertising Display Sign Match HolderVintage Cast Iron Pecking Bird Match Holder BoxSampson Mordan Match Holder, Sterling & Glass, Gold Gilted, London 1895, VestaDimensional Winged Nymph Match Stick Holder Safe Chatelaine 925 Sterling 38.7gVintage B/ham 1911 H/mk Sterling Silver Vesta Case 20 Grams ,Antique Copper "indian Motorcycle" Match Holder. Rare And Collectable.Superb Large Victorian Sterling Silver Gilt Vesta Case, 70 Grams, Asprey, 1894 Sterling Silver Matchbook Cover Match Case Art Mfg. Co. New York 1904 VestaLarge Ribbed Effect Silver B'ham 1896 Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerStunning Edwardian Silver Vesta Case - Birmingham 1910 - A & J Zimmerman LtdExtremely Rare Solid Silver Art Nouveau Victorian Vesta Case Circa 1891Stunning Late Victorian Art Noveau Solid Silver Vesta Case Birmingham 1899Antique Marked Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Match Safe Vesta The Very BestArt Nouveau Antique Vesta Case Ornate Victorian Silver Matchsafe Box FloralMatch Holder, Sterling & Glass, Gold Gilted Inter, London 1896, Vesta, By T. W. Vintage Stock Yards Rendering Peoria Advertising Match Holder Safe Tin Dead Il Six Cartier Sterling Silver Match Boxes Box Holder Strike In Original Box C1900 Carved Boot Table Vesta Case Match Holder Striker No Reserve Black Forest?Antique Sterling Silver & Glass Ashtray With Match Box - 1905 John Grinsell