Skip to content

Strike a Light: Exploring the Fascinating World of Safety Matches and Collectible Containers

Have you ever taken a closer look at your collections and discovered smaller collections within them? It’s a common experience, and it got me thinking about my own assortment of safety match-related items. I realized that delving into the history of matches and the containers that followed could make for an intriguing topic in this month’s blog. And while not all of my pieces are flow blue, that I hope adds an extra layer of interest to the mix.

Safety matches, a remarkable invention of the 19th century, have a captivating story. The first patented safety match was developed by Swedish chemist Gustaf Erik Pasch in 1844. This initial version consisted of a match head that could only be ignited by striking it against a specially prepared surface containing red phosphorus. These matches were a significant improvement over friction matches, which could ignite through friction with any rough surface.

In 1855, Swedish inventor Johan Edvard Lundström introduced the safety matches we are familiar with today, often referred to as “strike-anywhere matches.” Lundström’s matches contained phosphorus sesquisulfide and were designed to be ignited by striking them on any rough surface, adding convenience and popularity to match usage.

Over time, safety matches have undergone various advancements, including the use of different chemical compositions and the addition of safety coatings to matchboxes. Today, safety matches are widely employed worldwide due to their convenience and reduced risk of accidental ignition.

The history of matches wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the invention of friction matches by English chemist John Walker in 1826. Walker’s accidental discovery during the preparation of a lighting mixture led to the creation of matches that ignited through friction against a rough surface. While successful, these matches were also dangerous, as flaming balls occasionally fell, resulting in carpet and dress fires. As a consequence, they were banned in France and Germany. Walker neither patented nor commercialized his invention.

The advent of safety matches, however, came at a significant cost to the health and well-being of young girls working in match factories during the Victorian era. These girls faced challenging conditions, including long hours, monotonous tasks, and exposure to hazardous substances. Their work involved dipping matchsticks in phosphorous-based compounds, leading to skin conditions and respiratory ailments. Prolonged exposure to phosphorus resulted in bone damage and disfigurement.

Moreover, the cramped and unsanitary working environments made the girls vulnerable to infectious diseases. Insufficient ventilation and overcrowding contributed to respiratory illnesses such as tuberculosis and bronchitis, while poor access to clean water and sanitation facilities increased the risk of waterborne diseases. Limited wages further restricted their access to healthcare, education, and personal fulfilment, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and limited opportunities.

Fortunately, the plight of these matchstick girls did not go unnoticed. Activists like Annie Besant and match factory workers union leader Alice Foley played vital roles in exposing the abysmal working conditions and advocating for change. Their efforts led to the establishment of better safety regulations, improved ventilation systems, and the elimination of phosphorus in match production.

So, there you have a short history of the Match.

Now, let’s explore the world of the Match Strikers and Containers

They perfectly blend style and functionality with items we love to collect.

Match strikers, found on match holders and matchboxes have small rough surfaces made of materials like sandpaper, rough ceramics, or specialized striker paper.

Beyond their functional purpose, these strikers have evolved into objects of beauty and collectability

They come in various designs, from simple and minimalist to intricately crafted and ornate, adorned with elegant patterns, delicate engravings, vibrant colours, or reflective metallic finishes.

Match strikers have transformed into miniature works of functional art, elevating their utilitarian nature.

Match containers play a crucial role in keeping matches safe, dry, and easily accessible. In the past, they were crafted from durable materials such as pottery, metal or wood.

Today, match containers come in a range of materials, including pottery, glass, plastic, bamboo, or recycled materials, catering to diverse tastes and interior decor preferences adding sophistication to a very simple item.

From sleek and modern designs to vintage-inspired charm or whimsical novelties, match containers enhance the ambience of any space, serving as conversation starters and objects of curiosity.

The combination of a well-crafted match striker and a stylish match container forms a harmonious pairing.

Placing them together creates a visual ensemble that not only serves a practical purpose but also adds an aesthetic touch to a room.

Whether adorning a mantelpiece, coffee table, or bedside stand, these objects evoke nostalgia for simpler times when matches were relied upon for various purposes.

As you strike a match against a stylish striker or retrieve a match from an artfully designed container, take a moment to appreciate the perfect blend of functionality and beauty.

Reflect not only on the elegance of these objects but also on the sacrifices made by the young factory workers of the past.

Their struggles paved the way for safer working conditions and remind us of the intrinsic human fascination with fire.

So, let us cherish the allure of matches, their intriguing history, and the captivating world of match strikers and containers within our collections.

May they kindle the flame of curiosity and appreciation for the remarkable journey that led to the safety and beauty we enjoy today when we Strike a Light.