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Match Safe Artifact Highlight #31

This little match safe, also called a vesta case, was donated to our collection in 1980.

It is made of sterling silver with engraved decoration on both sides. Initials “E. D.” appear on the bottom right corner. The top of the match safe has a hinged cover, and the bottom has a ribbed surface for lighting the matches. A small ring on the side was used for attaching it to a fob chain. The match safe was made in England.

The maker’s mark “S&B” with a town mark for Birmingham is stamped on the top edge along with the lion passant guardant certifying the silver quality and the date letter “d” dating it to around 1900-1917.

Roman Goddess Vesta

Match safes were a very popular accessory during the 19th century because friction matches, named “vestas” for the Ancient Roman Goddess of Fire or “lucifers” for Satan or “the light-bringer” in classical mythology, were dangerous. Made with phosphorus, they were unstable and would sometimes burst into flame when carried in pockets or purses. To avoid unfortunate accidents, decorated boxes kept the matches dry and safe.

The majority of match safes were produced at the end of the 19th century by jewelers and silversmiths. Match safes came in different shapes and sizes and were made of silver, tin, aluminum, brass, gold, or ivory, and shaped as animals, boots, or bottles, with painted landscapes or tobacco advertising.

Placer Herald July 26, 1879

They were also a fashionable accessory for women, as smoking in public became more socially acceptable. Match safes were replaced by matchbooks and gas lighters in the 1930s.

This match safe was donated by Marion Randall of Auburn.