Smoking is very bad for your health and it is many many years since I last had the unbelievable joy of smoking my pipe. The inconsolable heartbreak of dispatching my beloved briar to the bin is still a wound as raw today as the day of the ceremony. I console myself however by counting the money saved on matches or, as they are sometimes called, vestas.

Vesta cases are a very collectable item. In the 1830’s the awkward and inconvenient tinder box was finally replaced when a new method was invented for producing flames. Vesta matches, named after the Roman goddess Vesta, were slightly smaller than modern matches and were tipped with red phosphorus which ignited when rubbed against a rough surface.

A 9ct Aspray Gold Vesta Case SOLD £340 APRIL 2011 at Sheffield Auction Gallery

A 9ct Aspray Gold Vesta Case SOLD £340 APRIL 2011 at Sheffield Auction Gallery

This new invention in turn developed a need for the vesta box. Originally the vesta box was an adaptation of the traditional snuff box made by adding a striker. The striker was usually a small plate of silver or iron added to the side, base or even interior of the snuff box. Iron strikers remain rare though because laws in the production of silver prohibited the soldering of any base metal to the silver. Other developments included moving the hinged cover to the base to prevent the chance of a stray spark turning the vesta box into a bomb. So, slowly vesta box design grew separately from the snuff box.

Essentially there are three types of vesta case. Those made in the provinces, those made in London and the novelty cases. Collectors can collect single makers, specific Assay offices, all varieties, have themed collections or specialise in novelty. The most valuable are often the novelty cases. These come in a variety of guises. Examples are the dog, the pig, the dog kennel, the violin, the snake and the corseted female form.

Smoking tobacco is definitely not a popular activity any longer, but collecting smoking memorabilia is a growing passion amongst collectors and the vesta case is part of that passion.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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