Antique Cigarette Lighters

Terry Hurley
A vintage lighter

Most collectors of antique cigarette lighters know that it is very hard to find lighters from the early part of the 1900s. Generally, cigarette lighter collections consist of lighters from the 1920s and newer. Many of these lighters feature beautiful designs, unique shapes and interesting advertising logos.

Antique Cigarette Lighters

To collectors of cigarette lighters and other forms of tobacciana, the word antique is often considered a subjective matter. Many agree that to be an antique an item must be at least 100 years old. However, there are also a great number of others that believe that to be an antique the item simply must belong to the past and be desired by collectors because of its age, rarity and uniqueness.

The disagreement between the two schools of thought has continued in the field of antiques and collectibles for decades with each side has having a large school of followers. Those that follow the 100 years old rule are following the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, a customs law put into place by the United States. Those that argue against the validity of the 100 year rule stand firm on their beliefs.

It is this disagreement on the definition of the term antique regarding a vast array of collectible items, including cigarette lighters, that accounts for so many lighters being termed antique when they are from the mid twentieth century. In reality, throughout the world many antique dealers, auctioneers and collectors commonly refer to cigarette lighters as antique when many others would refer to them as vintage.

Dobereiner's Lamp

In 1823, a German chemist perfected the first lighter, often referred to as the Feuerzeug or the Dobereiner's Lamp, after the inventor Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner. The early lighters tended to be very large, produced a great amount of heat and were very dangerous due to the fuel and catalyst being used, which were:

  • Hydrogen gas
  • Zinc
  • Sulfuric acid
  • Platinum

The lighters were produced until the end of the 1800s.

The Development of Flint Lighters

The early 1900s saw the next generation of cigarette lighters when Baron Carl Von Welsbach patented ferrocerium, which is commonly referred to as flint. These lighters worked using flint as the catalyst and naptha, a petroleum mix, as the fuel.

During the first three decades of the 1900s, cigarette lighters grew in popularity as companies manufactured lighters that were small enough to be easily carried in a pocket or handbag, as well as, larger lighters that were made to be displayed on a table or desk. Companies produced lighters that were functional and decorative with many having beautiful designs and ornamentation.

The three main types of cigarette lighters developed during these years were:

  • Manual lighters, also called strike lighters
  • Semi-automatic lighters
  • Automatic lighters

Butane Lighters

After World War II, a new type of lighter developed during the 1930s and 1940s, became popular. The lighter used compressed butane instead of naphtha or lighter fluid. The main features of butane lighters were:

  • The ability to control the flame
  • A less pungent order than naphtha
  • The wick did not have to be replaced

Manufacturers of Early Cigarette Lighter

Although there were many early manufacturers of early cigarette lighters, two names that stand out to most people are Ronson and Zippo.

Ronson

The Ronson Company had its beginning in 1886 when it was founded by Louis V. Aronson under the name Ronson Art Metal Works. In 1913 the company marketed its first lighter, the Wonderliter. The strike lighter was a huge success and the first of many styles and designs for the company. Another popular design was Ronson's Banjo lighter marketed in 1926. The Banjo lighter, with its unique shape, was an automatic lighter that could be lit and extinguished with the simple push and release of the button. Two other popular lighter styles are the Comet and the Varaflame.

Zippo

Founded by George Blaisdell in 1932, the Zippo Manufacturing Company began making the famous lighter almost eight decades ago. During that time the lighter has maintained much of its original design.

Two types of Zippo lighters that are highly sought after by collectors were manufactured for the soldiers of World War II. Zippos lighters were standard issue for the soldiers and many were covered in a crackled black finish where soldiers carved drawings, names and designs into and are now called Trench Art. The other is the miniature Zippo that was manufactured for soldiers when metal supplies ran low. To save metal, the lighters were made using two top halves of the larger Zippo lighter.

Additional Manufacturers

Several of the company's that manufactured early cigarette lighters include:

  • Dunhill
  • Penguin
  • Scripto
  • Colibri
  • Evans
  • ST Dupont
  • Stratoflame
  • Schick
  • Bentley
  • ASR
  • Rolstar
  • Rowenta

Resources for Vintage and Antique Cigarette Lighters

The following price and identification guides for cigarette lighters are available from Amazon:

  • Collecting Cigarette Lighters: A Price Guide by Neil Wood
  • The Legend of the Lighter by Van Weert
  • Collector's Guide to Cigarette Lighters by James Flanagan
  • Cigarette Lighters by Stuart Schnieder

Collecting Antique and Vintage Cigarette Lighters

Collecting vintage and antique cigarette lighters is a hobby that is fun for the whole family as you scour garage sales, flea markets and antique stores searching for your next antique collectible treasure.

Antique Cigarette Lighters