Match strikers reached their peak production and usage in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their small size made them easy to ship and many American travelers brought European-designed ones home in their suitcases. These were often low ceramic bowls with special typography, designed by famous pottery and porcelain manufacturers like Meissen, Wedgwood and Royal Doulton. The match striker was a popular advertising tool for absinthe and other drinks, tobacco, bars and restaurants.
A match striker was designed to hold a container of fireplace matches and the ribbed surface on its side (or base) was used to strike antique match strikes a single match and ignite it. It was also a decorative piece. Some were painted with scenes of the era in which they were produced. Others were adorned with symbols and motifs like flowers, angels, hearts or stars. Some were even embellished with precious stones.
Antique match strikes are still sought after by collectors. They can be found at auctions, estate sales and online. They are often in mint condition and have a certain elegance that modern match holders lack. These decorative objects can be displayed in the home and are a nice way to add a touch of history to a room or a mantel. They can also be used as a gift for those who enjoy collecting them or for the nostalgic who remember them from childhood.
The rooms that designer Lilly Bunn designs are traditional in a clean-up sort of way, not “that chintzy stuff of the 1980s.” She’s a fan of antique match strikers, which she believes evokes an era when smoking was seen as glamorous.
In fact, the match striker was one of the most controversial and powerful symbols of the Industrial Revolution. It was not only a means of lighting a fire but a form of protest against the poor working conditions in the factories where the matches were produced. An illustration in a newspaper from April 24th 1871 and the ‘Members of the Matchmakers’ Union’ photograph from the Bryant and May factory of 1888 illustrate the power and significance of these tools for demonstrating worker’s rights.
These two sources can be used to encourage students to analyse and evaluate the information presented on the faces of the match girls and compare it with the information that is given about their lives in both the source and the caption. They can explore the impact of these tools on the development of ‘New Unionism’ and match workers’ unions.
An attractive alternative to a traditional match holder is this solid brass sphere, which has a built-in striker on its side. It’s great for use in a minimalist kitchen or living room and fits well with other metallic accents. It’s available in several colors and includes matches.