When cigarettes were king
  • Lighting up with Zippo
  • Reader asks about Zippo lighter
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    Auction Finds

    One collector’s love affair with novelty cigarette lighters

    It was a collection that bespoke of a different time when just about everyone lit up. This collector had pulled together novelty lighters in an abundance of shapes.

    I’ve been going to auctions for so long that I’ve seen a handful of lighters here and there, but this was way more than that. The palm-sized lighters were laid out by their commonality on trays atop table after table against a wall at the auction house.

    Bejeweled cigarette lighters.

    Bejeweled cigarette lighters.

    Pick your category and there was certain to be a tray of lighters to fit it. A golfer? You got lighters featuring golf balls. A Coke enthusiast? You got two lighters in Coca-Cola red. Like to fish? You got minnows in resin, as well as a woman in a bathing suit and an American flag. You like a classy lighter with a cigarette case? There were several of those, looking as if they’d barely been used.

    Whenever I think of cigarette lighters, Zippo comes to mind, and plenty of them come up singly at auctions. That’s not surprising because Zippo is the king of lighters and the most collectible. The company was founded in Bradford, PA, in 1932 by George G. Blaisdell who was looking to make a more reliable lighter. Zippo didn’t hit its stride until the 1940s when it began making lighters for U.S. soldiers overseas. None were sold to civilians at that time.

    Lighters with cigarette cases.

    Lighters with cigarette cases, and an open case.

    Belle Kogan, a Russian immigrant who was among the country’s first female industrial designers, created designs for Zippo lighters in the 1930s.

    Zippo may have been the most prolific during World War II, but the cigarette lighter had been around for awhile, since the 1820s. The first was made by a German inventor named Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner and was primarily a reworked flint pistol. The Ronson company was the first to make a more practical lighter with its Wonderlite in 1913, and in 1926, it created the first automatic lighter that required less effort to spark. Soldiers fighting in World War I created their own lighters made from spent artillery shells, and are now commonly known as trench lighters.

    Clock lighters.

    Clock lighters.

    Cigarette lighters are a popular collectible, whether you’re collecting novelties like the collection at the auction or the high-end ones like the elegant Dunhill. I found listings on the web about what to buy along with tons of lighters for sale, a website for an association of collectors and folks showing off their own collections.

    Here are some lighters from the auction.

    An array of lighters on the auction tables.

    An array of lighters on the auction tables.

     

    Cigarette advertising lighters.

    Cigarette advertising lighters.

     

    Lighters with figures in resin.

    Lighters with figures in resin, including a bird, seashell, dice and mask.

     

    Animal-inspired lighters in ceramics and metal.

    Animal-inspired lighters in ceramics and metal.

     

    Porcelain lighters and cut-glass lighters.

    Porcelain lighters, and cut-glass and brass lighters.

     

    Table gas lighter (battery operated), Art Deco style lighter and sky lighters.

    From left, table gas lighter (battery-operated), Art Deco-style lighter, western boots and a pair of ski boots lighters.

     

    Skaters, dancers and more, along with lighters shaped like a harp.

    Skaters, dancers and more, and sleek slender lighters.

     

    Silver- and gold-plated lighters and Scottie dog lighters.

    Silver- and gold-plated lighters and Scottie dog lighters.

     

    Trench lighters (left), Coke lighters and golf lighters.

    Trench lighters (left), Coke lighters and golf lighters.

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