Wax Match Holders

A match holder, a vesta case, or simply a “vesta” is a small box made to house wax, or “strike anywhere” matches.

The first successful friction match appeared in 1826, and in 1832 William Newton patented the “wax vesta” in England. It consisted of a wax stem with embedded cotton threads and a tip of phosphorus. Newton named his matches after Vesta, the Roman goddess of fire and the hearth.

Small containers to house these friction matches were introduced shortly afterwards (in the early 1830s), to guard against accidental combustion. In England, these containers took their name from the term Newton used for his invention, and they became known as “vesta cases”, “vesta boxes” or simply “vestas”. In America the more prosaic yet more descriptive term “match safes” was chosen.

There are three main forms of vesta cases: pocket vestas, table or standing vestas and “go to bed” vestas.

Pocket vesta cases were the most popular form, and were often made to be suspended from a fob chain or an Albert chain. These cases were gold, silver or silver plated and just large enough to hold and protect the small amount of “strike anywhere” matches required for a day’s smoking.   Although restricted in size because of their function, their decoration varied enormously from the very plain to the heavily embossed and chased decorations

Table vestas were usually larger than pocket vestas and left in a handy position in the home, such as in the kitchen or close to a fireplace. “Go to bed” vestas were often joined to a candle stick holder or had a holder for a single match.

A distinguishing characteristic of vesta cases is that they have a ribbed surface, usually on the bottom, for lighting the matches.

To see this, and many other items from our collection of smoking objects, in our new display of “Smoking Kills”, visit the City of Canada Bay Museum, 1 Bent Street, Concord on any Wednesday or Saturday, 10:00 am to 3:30 pm.


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