Matchsafes were introduced in the mid-19th century when friction matches were invented. Early friction matches, also called Lucifers and vestas, sometimes burst into flames in a user’s pocket. Matchsafes solved this problem by keeping the vestas from rubbing together and prematurely combusting.
Matchsafes enjoyed a surge of popularity from 1870 until the 1930s, when they were replaced by cigarette lighters.
Matchsafes were miniature works of art, crafted from sterling silver, and embossed or engraved with a seemingly endless variety of delightful images, limited only by the jeweler‘s imagination. Other matchsafes were made of gold and inlaid with enamel decorations. Many famous jewelers produced matchsafes, including the American companies of Tiffany, Gorham, Bristol, and Whiting. Cartier and Faberge, high-end European jewelers, exported their matchsafes to many overseas markets.
Today, matchsafes can be found at antiques shows, flea markets, antiques shops, and a host of other venues. Because of their beauty, diminutive size, and affordability, matchsafes are enjoying growing popularity among collectors of charming and unique “smalls.”