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    

1907 Newcomb College Pottery Match Holder~peaches~j.myer~a.romanTiny Little Sterling Silver Match Vesta Case For Chatelaine Robert Chandler 1903Antique Novelty Brass Monkey Vesta Case Match Safe Box Glass Eyes Antique Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Repouss Holly Match Safe Vesta CaseVintage Scarce 1924 Silver & Shagreen Vesta Case Quality By Callow Shark SkinAntique Silver Plate Vesta Match Safe Sovereign Coin Holder Fob Stamp Patent NrAntique Victorian C1900 Sterling Silver Dragons & Griffins Engraved Matchsafe NrLovely Decorative English Antique 1907 Solid Sterling Silver Vesta Match CaseAn Antique German Bisque Schafer & Vater Match Holder Striker PorcelainFine Solid Sterling Silver Hallmarked Heart Vesta Case Match Holder SafeFabulous Antique Victorian Brass Vesta Case Matchsafe Dancing Drinking Pub SceneQuality Art Deco Solid Sterling Silver Sliding Vesta/ Match Box, 1928Solid Sterling Silver Hallmarked Cat Vesta Case Match Safe With StrikerEarly 20thc Brass Turtle Advertising Match Holder From Grand Rapids Brass CoAntique Royal Vesta Case Vulcanite King Edward Vii Coronation 1902 MatchsafeAntique Intricately Embossed Art Nouveau German Silver Vesta CaseBirmingham Hallmarked Silver Vesta Case 1898 By A.m.b.Fine Solid Sterling Silver Hallmarked Fox Vesta Case Match Holder Pill BoxClarrice Cliff Bizzarre Art Deco Limberlost Match Striker Cigarette Holder 1932 Antique Matchbox Holder Match Box Cover Vesta Case Russian Faberge Silver Pl Beautiful Decorative English Antique 1908 Solid Sterling Silver Vesta Match CaseSterling Silver Match Safe/vesta/ Embossed Indian Head/ Unique/(#289)Solid Sterling Silver Hallmarked Enamel Hunting Fox Hound Dog Vesta CaseVtg Oblong Tin Tam O'shanter Tobacco Vesta Match Striker Stephen Mitchell BoxVintage 30's Art Deco Bakelite Black Cat Match Holder Rare Dunhill Era AntiqueRoyal Bayreuth Figural Clown Hanging Match HolderAntique Art Nouveau Table Vesta Case Matchsafe Brass Enamel German BoxAntique Russian Match Safe Vesta Silver Enameld End 19thSolid Sterling Silver Hallmarked Enamel Skull Head Vesta Case Match Safe Stylish Antique 1910 Silver Vesta Case With Engraved Design By W.h.haselerRepousse~ Sterling Silver Victorian Nouveau Antique Match Safe Box VestaMedallion ~ Silverplate Victorian Nouveau Antique Match Safe Box VestaA Fine Solid Sterling Silver Hallmarked Heart Vesta Case Match Holder SafeEquestian Solid Sterling Silver Hallmarked Enamel Horse Vesta Case Match SafeEstate Antique 800 Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Match Vesta / Case Antique Styled Brass Horses Hoof Match Vesta CaseStanley No. 50 Plow Beading And Match Plane In Picture Label BoxTrench Art Brass Vesta Case German Death Head Skull Ww1 Coin Vintage Match SafeEtched Florals ~ Sterling Silver Victorian Nouveau Antique Match Safe Box VestaFine Quality V Clean English Antique 1902 Solid Sterling Silver Vesta Match CaseVintage Wunup Baccyflap Bakelite Tobacco Case Holder / Match StrikerSolid Sterling Silver Hallmarked Heart Vesta Case Match Holder SafeStylish Antique 1905 Silver Vesta Case With Curved Shape By J.gloster Good OrderAntique Sterling Silver Vesta Case Match Safe Etched Floral Vtg Striker MatchesSolid Sterling Silver Hallmarked Enamel Equestian Horse Vesta Case Match Safe Globular Silver & Ribbed Glass Vesta Match Striker Holder Hm Birmingham 1903Rare Antique Wrigley Gum Juicy Fruit Tin Match Holder W/striker 1910 ChicagoBright Cut Solid Silver Vesta Case - Birmingham 1916Wwi Ww1 Aef Trench Art Match Holder, Gott Mit Uns And Original Match Box BrassDutch Revolution Military Matchbox Match Box Cover Antique Silver Pl Zilpla901908 Push-button 2-compartment Silver Vesta Case Match Safe Long Hinge Top 33grFine Solid Sterling Silver Hallmarked Enamel Sporting Golf Vesta Case Match SafeAntique Match Holder Match SafeSolid Sterling Silver Hallmarked Enamel Sporting Golf Vesta Case Match SafeSolid Silver Vesta Case Chester 1901Vintage Nikon Lens - Nikkor F 28mm F/2.8 Manual Lens W/box/filter Match Serial #Late Victorian Solid Silver Vesta Case Chester Robert Pringle Solid Sterling Silver Hallmarked Enamel Wild Stag Deer Vesta Case Match SafeLego 4737 Harry Potter Quidditch Match Including 5 Minifigs Box & Instructions Solid Silver Hallmarked Vesta Case With The Essex Regiment Egypt Insignia.