Dear Old Man:

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My father was a collector of strange stuff. We always laughed at him because his house was full of stuff that he knew about, but no one else did, including our mom. Dad is gone now and we have to find out what his stuff is. Can you help us? What are these and what were they used for? They look like Zippo lighters but we know they are not Zippos. LK

Well LK, I laughed at your phone call and then I thought about my own family. I am a collector from way back, I love the stuff and my family knows very little about my “junk” or treasure. Collectors are a strange breed. What we should do is make a record of our things so that our family will not be burdened by finding out what our collections are. Among your dad’s collections are match safes, or in England, vesta cases.

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Early friction matches were called vestas or Lucifers. They did their job almost too well, as the matches could burst into flame in a person’s pocket. Match safes were intended to keep the matches from lighting prematurely.

The “golden age” of match safes is 1870 to 1930, when matchbooks and lighters became popular. Men carried match safes in their pockets as accessories and, as in your father’s collection, were ornately decorated. Many were made of sterling silver, embossed or engraved with images of people, animals and birds; others were gold and inlaid with enamel scenes.

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Makers included Tiffany, Gorham, Bristol and Whiting and Davis. Most of your father’s collection are sterling and command a price of $100 to $200 each, depending on design, manufacturer and condition.

Ed Tuten is the Executive Secretary of the New England Appraisers Association. He can be reached by mail at 6973 Crestridge Rd., Memphis, TN., 38119 or by phone 901-758-2659 or 901-216-7070.

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