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    

Fabulous Liberty & Co Cymric Art Nouveau Silver & Enamel Match Box KnoxAntique Sterling Silver Shakespeare Souvenir Vesta Case Match Safe 1905Asprey - 166 Bond St - Pair Of Travelling Inkwell And Vesta Box - No ReserveSterling Silver Cheroot & Vesta CaseAntique Solid Sterling Silver Hallmarked Birmingham 1900 Engraved Vesta CaseSterling Silver Vesta Match Holder Birmingham 1898 Engraved Maker R.bsRare Novelty Solid Silver Mephisto Vesta Match Safe By David Bowles Dab Antique Edwardian Solid 925 Sterling Silver Engraved Vesta Match CaseVintage Australian B J Salute Melb. Empire Tobacco Tin Afl Collingwood VestaFine! Antique Gorham Sterling Silver Vesta Case Match Safe 19thc Tin Boot Figural Match Holder With Original Painted SurfaceDelightful Antique Silver Hand Painted Enamel Vesta Case Collie Dogs Rare Antique Solid Sterling Silver Snuff Box Match Vesta Case Combo London 1863Delightful Antique Silver Enamel Cigarette Case And Vesta Hand Painted DogsSolid Silver Vesta (match) Case Birmingham 1901 Joseph GlosterHallmarked Silver Vesta Case, 1886. Revell & Co.Antique Solid 925 Sterling Silver Vesta Match Case HolderAntique Birmingham 1910 Sterling Silver Vesta Case Match Safe Watch Chain Rare Heavy Antique Solid Sterling Silver Novelty Dogs Head Vesta Case Match BoxAntique 19thc Foley Faience Shelley Dunvill's Whisky Advert Match Holder StrikerAntique S. Kirk & Son Art Nouveau Repousse 90f Sterling Silver Match Box HolderJoseph Scherer & Co. Stoneware Match Safe, Spectacular Sunshine InsigniaSuperb Rare English Antique 1898 Solid Silver Combination Vesta & Sovereign CaseVintage Knapp Sport Saw Match Safe & Cutco 1069 Hunting / Fishing Knife & CaseAntique Birmingham 1911 Sterling Silver Vesta Case Match Safe Watch Chain Antique..sterling.ornate Flip Top Match Holder Safe Vesta Case..old Family StuffAntique Solid Sterling Silver Engraved Vesta Case Match Box Birmingham 1902Super Antique Cigarette Vesta Case Match Striker - Good Pattern - 5 Cm'sAntique Art Nouveau Floral Motif Silver Vesta Match Safe 28 GramsRare Antique Victorian B1894 Solid Silver & Green Agate Irish Design Vesta CaseAntique Royal Bayreuth Red Devil & Cards Head Ashtray Bavaria Match Safe VtgAntique Birmingham 1911 Sterling Silver Vesta Case Match Safe Watch Chain Antique Billiards Pool Bowling Alley Motif Vesta Match SafeSolid Silver Vesta (match) Case Birmingham 1905 Sydenham Bros.Early 20thc Boston Terrier Dog Figural Match Holder Antique Penny Vending Match DispenserAntique Chester 1902 Oval Sterling Silver Vesta Case Match Safe Watch Chain Old Dueber Brass Watch Case Match Safe With Dueber Hampden Stick PinAntique Fancy Silver Plate Flur De Lis Pocket Match Safe Vesta Cir. 1800,sVictorian Brass "worlds Fair" Vesta Case / Match Safe From 1896The Whitehead & Hoag Celluliod Wrap Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerSterling Ornate Dragon Figural Cigarette Vesta Case Marked Sterling 608 809 ?Antique Majolica Figural Black Americana Match Holder & Cigarette Holder Fine NrOld Indian? Silver Plated "crocodile" Vesta Case / Match Safe - Estate ClearanceRare Antique Solid Sterling Silver Oval Vesta Case Match Box Birmingham 1908A Combination Silver Plated Vesta Case & Stamp Box : C1900Solid Silver Ladies Chatelaine Vesta Case Birmingham 1911 Art NouveauVintage Wwii Match Holder/safe With Compass - Part An5731-1 By TaylorE & W Drayton Celluliod Wrap Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe Striker In CaseX7 Colllection Advertising Tin Match Holder Vesta Case Match Safe StrikerAn Antique Art Nouveau Silver Vesta Case : C1898Silver Pocket Match Safe Vesta Devil Head Satan Diablo Lucifer Occult 1800,sAntique Solid Sterling Silver Vesta Case Match Box Birm 1899 Joseph GlosterPrimitive Vintage Cast Iron Matchbox Holder Match Safe Cowboy On Horse ImageSolid Sterling Silver Vesta Case Hallmarked Chester 1904Antique Victorian Ornate Shoe Vesta Case Go To Bed Match Safe Striker Late 1800sAntique Victorian Edwardian Sterling Silver Vesta Match Safe 19 GramsAntique Vintage Kerr & William Co. Sterling Silver Match Box Snuff Box 4286 Ww Ii U.s. Military Dupage Bakelite Match Safe With Compass Antique Victorian Edwardian Fleur-de-lis Sterling Silver Vesta Match Safe