Match Safes Light up Your World

One of the most intriguing sterling silver antiques I always look for on our buying trips are vesta cases. In the US they were called match safes, the reason why they’re called that I’ll explain in this post – The Secret Life of Antiques: Match Safes. They were made to hold a daily amount of matches. No matter what they are called, they are small, beautiful sterling silver cases that collectors adore. Read on why Match Safes Light up Your World!


Match Safes Light up your world


History of Matches


The friction match was invented in 1826, called “lucifer”{!} these matches could ignite spontaneously from the heat of friction. The sulfur tip needed only slight friction to catch fire and could explode in a pocket if unprotected. Small matches specifically created to light a cigar {vs. larger kitchen matches used for lighting the stove} were developed in 1906 by the Swan Match Company which they called Vestas, after the Roman goddess of hearth and home.  These kind of matches were known as vestas in England until the twentieth century when ‘match’ became the popular name.


Obviously – it was quite dangerous if you carried these spontaneously lighting matches loose in your pocket, so the small fireproof, light and portable match or vesta cases were designed.


Match Safes Light up your world
Rare Harlequin Match Case >


Vestas & Match Safes


The vesta and match cases were a little box, with a snugly fitting top with a hinge, and often a serrated striker on the bottom.  The insides of these little match cases were often gilded, because the sulfur head of matches tarnished and ate away at the silver.  Not only did they protect a smoker during the explosive matches stage, once other matches were invented they kept the matches dry so they would light.

The vestas were designed in many different materials and in a variety of forms. Some unusual ones were made from wood, ivory, mother of pearl, tortoise shell, leather, and bone. But the ones I love and look for are sterling silver.  {they were also made of silver plated, nickel plated and brass.}


Match Safes Light up Your WorldAntique Sterling Vesta with French Laurel Wreath>


Although restricted in size because of their function, the vesta cases and match safes were designed with the most beautiful designs.  Heavily ornate, with all the art nouveau scrolls, flowers and figures, and classical elegant designs were equally popular. These were often a gift chosen by a sweetheart or wife for her man, because smoking was definitely frowned upon for ladies {some naughty ones did!}

It was a favored gift for gentlemen for almost 100 years. Some of the little silver boxes had a loop to attach to a chain to a gentlemen’s waistcoat. One pocket would hold the all important watch, the other, the match safe.


Match Safes Light up Your WorldAntique English Sterling Match Vesta Pendant>


Vesta cases or match safes were hugely popular between the 1860’s until the 1940’s.  Once Louis V Aronson {Ronson}  invented pocket sized petrol lighters in 1926, vesta cases became less and less favored. The new portable way to light a smoke became hugely popular in WWII, as soldiers preferred the petrol lighter that was easy to refill. Slowly the cases fell out of favor for matches, but not out of favor with collectors.


Heart match case vesta
Antique Sterling Heart Engraved Match Safe >


What to Collect


There are so many different kinds of vesta cases and match safes. It is an avidly collected area of specialty antiques, with unusual or exceptionally fine cases fetching incredible prices!  In 1999 a Victorian enameled vesta case sold at the famed Christie’s auction house for $12,429.  Enameled with a sea side Punch and Judy tent, this case was made by Sampson Mordan of London, in 1887.

Luckily, most cases are quite affordable if you want to begin a collection, or add to your collection.  These silver pieces are absolutely beautiful, made of finest quality, by the finest silver smiths of the era. One of the most wonderful things that many of our clients love about collecting match safes is that they are small, so they don’t have to take up a huge amount of space in their homes. They are an affordable luxury, and will add joy and beauty to your home and family for generations to come.

sterling English match vesta
Art Nouveau Sterling Match Case >


Best Tips to Collect Match Vestas

  1. Only buy the ones you love. You know the feeling? You see it, you love it…those are the ones you should add to your collection.
  2. Look for a sterling mark, often found on the inside edge of the case itself.
  3. Buy cases that are mostly undamaged. A few dents in the fine silver sides are acceptable, as these were put daily in pockets and taken out many times.
  4. Buy cases that the dealer has taken the time to polish. It’s almost impossible to see any damage on heavily tarnished pieces.
  5. Look for ornate monograms, even if they are not yours, they add personality and have a storied personal past.
  6. Display your cases in a group, on a tray, in a small vitrine, or perhaps pile them in an antique pedestal stand, as several of our designer clients have done.
  7. Really love them? Buy a gorgeous necklace made with one of these, you can slip in a photo or a secret love note close to your heart.


Antique silver vesta necklace
Antique Sterling Necklace with Vesta>

I hope you have enjoyed finding out why Match Safes Light up Your World.


Do you collect any kind of small silver pieces that you love?




Shop for the best in French Antiques, furniture with the patina of age, vintage accessories to delight you and your family & friends, and French Country utilitarian pieces. Treasures that make your home fresh, beautiful, inspirational and above all uniquely yours. Visit our shop

10 thoughts on “Match Safes Light up Your World”

  1. These are gorgeous, Lidy. I am lucky enough to own a sterling vesta which has a raised image of the Pierre-Auguste Cot painting likeness of “The Storm”. It’s one of my keepsakes I display (when not in storage!!) alongside a beaded antique purse of the same image.

    1. Thanks, Rita. I love that you have a sterling vesta and a purse with a matching image…how great to have them both together. They are no doubt beauties!

  2. Mary Anna Bailer

    So beautiful! Lovely way to welcome a new week.

  3. Mary Anna, thank you ! I hope you have a beautiful week ahead.

  4. These are absolutely beautiful! I love trinket boxes so I love these too! What a lovely collection.
    Thank you for sharing this unique and beautiful collection!

    1. I love little boxes too, they are so beautiful all together on a tray! Hope you are having a lovely day, Nancy!

  5. Lidy, I’ve always admired these sterling vesta pieces. I don’t have any in my collection, but I do have a collection sterling needle cases and a collection of sterling heart shaped boxes, most very small. Not sure what they are called. I also have a small collection of dresser jars with sterling lids.
    Thanks for sharing this fascinating article on vesta pieces.

    1. Oh, Sarah, I love the antique needle cases! And well, who wouldn’t adore little sterling heart shaped boxes…so pretty! I am beyond sure that your home is lovely, and your own private beautiful haven.

  6. Dear Lidy, thank you for sharing your gorgeous collection and background information about the vesta cases.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Anja. So funny, I never put the Dutch word “lucifers” together with this original name of the first invented matches. 🙂

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