What Is a Vesta Case and Why Buy One?
Today, many people would view a vesta case and ask: “What is a vesta case?”
Well, in its simplest form, a vesta case is a small metal box, usually rectangular in form, with a flip top lid. These cases were used from the Victorian period through to the early Edwardian period for the express purpose of safely containing matches, also known as vestas.
Why the name ‘Vesta’?
Let’s head to ancient Rome, where ‘Vesta’ was the name given to the Roman goddess of hearth and home. Vesta’s presence is symbolized by the sacred fire that burned at her hearth and temples. The association of matches to the hearth meant that the goddess’ name was used for the matches, and by extension the vesta cases themselves.
A bit of history
Vesta cases, also referred to as match safes in the United States, had a brief period of popularity towards the late end of the 1800s and into the start of the 1900s, though they were quickly replaced with disposable matchbooks and early forms of petrol lighters that were more hardwearing in the 20th century. During this short period, however, vesta cases were crafted by the thousands. Intended to keep matches dry and stop them from breaking, vesta cases were used by pretty much everyone, and there are a plethora of surviving examples of the variety of cases that were available. The need for matches was an everyday consideration, as they were useful for lighting candles and oil lamps as well as cigarettes. Smoking was not new to Britain, but widely available, commercial cigarettes were relatively new, with the cigarette-making machine being invented in 1881 by James Bonsack. Smoking had been widespread since the mid-eighteenth century, but now cigarettes were more readily available, and people smoked tobacco from pipes and cigarettes every day, thus the need to keep matches handy became an essential.
Like matches today, the matches used by Victorians and Edwardians were friction-based, but unlike today, early matchheads were covered in sulphur, making them extremely dangerous. Without any kind of casing, there was a potential risk of matches lighting spontaneously as a result of the heat and friction generated by movement, making vesta cases a safety precaution as much as a decorative item.
While vesta cases were an everyday item used by all, there was a range of styles and materials used that reflected the social status of the owner of said case. The average vesta cases, used by the mass working public, were crafted from a variety of materials including tin, gunmetal, and vulcanite. These cases were often promotional items advertising everything from tea and biscuits to watchmakers and even bonds, with the exterior of the case featuring different brand insignias. These kinds of vesta cases weren’t considered to be anything special at the time, but their decoration provides an interesting insight into marketing and advertising in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
Slightly higher on the social ladder, people owned vesta cases made out of silver or plated brass, which were nicer and often more personalised, sometimes engraved with initials or small messages. These vesta cases were usually rectangular in shape, with a flip-top lid, and minimal decoration (see examples above). The vast majority of these vestas had ring loop fastenings, allowing them to easily be attached to a watch chain, ensuring they were always within reach.
The very top of the range vesta cases – purchased by the social elite – were crafted from silver, enamel, and gold, and were frequently made by renowned brands like Tiffany & Co. These items are highly coveted today, with common themes being sports, royalty, and enamel portrayals of scantily clad women. Here at AC Silver, we are fortunate enough to have amassed a selection of these exquisite examples of vesta cases that have truly stood the test of time. Upon viewing, it is clear to see why such exquisite items are viewed as valuable collectables, particularly in their gold and enamel renditions.
Frequently, vesta cases are found in a generally poor state of condition, due to their excessive daily use, and finding a vesta case in flawless presentation condition is something of a challenge. Something very appealing about vesta cases is the fact that they reflect such a specific time period, which makes them a charming collectable. Due to the high demand for vesta cases during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there is a vast range of prices and styles available to people looking to start a collection today. Among some of the most coveted examples are the ‘novelty’ vesta cases, crafted in unique shapes, such as our very own mussel vesta case, or our wild boar – shoes are another popular form for vestas that offer something a little different.
This blog was provided by AC Silver. For our full range of Vesta Cases on LoveAntiques.com click here.
All Vestas featured are products of AC Silver:
James Albert Bonsack's Cigarette Rolling Machine - Wikipedia
Silver Combination Vesta, Silver & Enamel Flag Vesta, 9ct Gold Vesta, Gold & Enamel Vesta, Novelty Shoe Vesta, Novelty Musscle Vesta & Wild Boar Vesta