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Trade card Beach's Patent Match Safe Base for Lamps trade card.
Pat'd March 21, 1876

Slipper match holder
Hanging wall match
holder in the form of a
pressed glass slipper.
Pat'd June 13, 1876

Figural pocket match safe Pocket match safe,
Match striker on base.
Pat'd October 9, 1888

Hanging match holder Hanging burnt match
holder. Suspended
from the finial of a
hanging lamp.

figural match holder Figural match safe in
the likeness of a fly.
Wings lift to access

bracket match holder
Cast iron wall plate
for a bracket lamp
with a match holder.
    necessity, the mother of invention     
Match Holders and Match Safes
Chas. Parker match holder
Charles Parker Patented Self-Closing #10
cast iron match safe, patented
Sept. 14, 1869 & May 3, 1870.

John Walker, a chemist and druggist from Stockton-on-Tees, holds the distinction of being the inventor of one of the world's greatest advances - the friction match. Walker's recipe was a mixture of potassium chlorate, antimony sulphide and gum. Walker discovered that if this mixture was applied to the end of a wood splint and drawn through folded strip of sandpaper, it would ignite. These early matches were primitive by today's standards and would be perfected over the coming years by a number of inventors. Walker's matches, called "friction lights," were first sold on April 7, 1827 to a Mr. Hixon, a solicitor in the town, as noted in his sales ledger. Until that time, all but the wealthiest of people had to light lamps and candles from either another flame or from fire struck with flint and steel. Now humans had the additional freedom to produce fire, anywhere, on demand. Sadly, John Walker did not patent his discovery and made little money from his invention.

About Friction Matches --
"The value of the friction or lucifer match will never be realized by the coming generation, for they will know nothing of the difficulties of obtaining and preserving fire previous to their invention. So rapidly do we move on, that persons that remember the tinder-box are getting old. Then matches made by hand were valuable and carefully preserved; now they are as abundant as dew-drops of an autumn morning, and almost as cheap. An English writer says that one firm, Messrs. Dixon, of London, constantly employ four hundred workmen in making matches, and make twenty-two hundred millions in a year. The average consumption in England is two hundred and fifty millions a day, or eight to each individual in the Kingdom. It is as large or larger in the United States. There are two manufactories in Austria and Bohemia that turn out forty-five thousand million in a year. The friction match is therefore one of the institutions of modern times, and one that, having once known and employed, we could no more do without and move on at the rapid rate we are doing, than we could live without air or water."

--from the Charleston Mercury, July 25, 1862

glass match holder lamp
Glass finger lamp with integrated match holder.

Along with the invention of matches came the need to have a safe, dry place to store them. Containers to hold matches were produced in great quantities. They were made out of just about any material - glass, china, cast iron, wood, tin - and in a plethora of styles, shapes and designs from plain, utilitarian designs to ornate and decorative examples in precious metals and art glass.

The 1883-84 Bradley & Hubbard Mfg. Co. Illustrated Catalogue of Kerosene Fixtures has a page of match safes. Among these items are cast iron and bronzed safes, as well as full-figural match safes in the likeness of a beetle and a fly or bee. The 1886 Charles Parker Company catalog depicts "Parker's Patent" pocket match safes, self-closing parlor match safes, friction plates for matches, and match safes for the table. Parker's #10 Self-Closing Parlor Match Safe is shown above.

carved mahogany match holder
Carved mahogany match holder in a fish and
game motif. A game bag forms the match
holder compartments. Seen in metal as well.
This design was pat'd by Frederick
Brocksieper on October 25, 1870.

Areas to hold matches were often integrated into the lamps themselves. Edwin R. Beach obtained U.S. Patent number 174,936 on March 21, 1876 for a match holder lamp base. His invention was a swing-out "drawer" in the cast iron base of a composite lamp. The reverse of a trade card for this item is depicted at the top of the left margin of this page. The finger lamp above has a small cylindrical area molded into the lamp to hold matches. This is seen in night lamps and stand lamps as well. The amber lamp below employs a shallow depression to hold matches on both sides of the base. The opposing sides are serrated for use as a striker. The Ripley marriage lamp has a covered match holder molded at the top of the stem between the founts. The covers to these are frequently missing as they were easily broken or misplaced over the years.

A number of match holders were made to be hung directly from a hanging chandelier or other suspended lamp - keeping the method of lighting close at hand. Usually hung from the bottom finial, these holders were made in many shapes like the one shown at left, used for burnt matches. Figural designs in the shape of kettles, canoes and umbrellas can be found.

Pocket match safes were widely used during the period. Most were made of metal including brass, nickel and silver. Many forms were highly ornamental and often figural. The one depicted (above, left) is said to represent William Henry Harrison, the ninth President of the United States. He died on April 4, 1841 in Washington D.C. of pneumonia a month after taking office. He was the first president to die in office. Pocket safes were often given by stores as advertising premiums.

Ripley wedding lamp

Ripley "wedding" lamp with covered
match holder between the founts.
Pat'd September 20, 1870.

Amber glass stand lamp

Amber glass stand lamp with
match holders in the base.

  • Alsford, Denis B. The Friction Match - A Brief History, The Rushlight Club.

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