So called after the name of one of the early makers, they came into use around the 1830s and were produced extensively between 1890 and 1920. They coincided with an explosion in the popularity of smoking. The different patterns and types must run into many thousands. As well as plain and decorated square, oblong and round cases, a myriad of novelty shapes have been recorded; brass pigs with hinged heads were popular, as were vesta cases in the form of Mr Punch, skulls, musical instruments, boots and shoes, bottles, ladies' legs and so on.
They were also made in every conceivable material including pressed brass, pressed tin, gunmetal, nickel silver, ivory,wood of varying types and ceramics. Although the majority were made of these inexpensive materials, some were made of precious metals or enamelled. These precious metal cases would likely have an inner lining that would not easily be corroded by the volatile match heads.
Some vesta cases had a strike side for lighting the match and some incorporated a small knife blade as well. Often made to be carried in the pocket, some were small enough to be suspended from the Albert chain. Others were made to be left in a handy position in the home, such as the kitchen or close to a fire place.
Vesta cases are still to be found in a vast array of shapes, sizes and materials, and many are extremely attractive.
Occasionally a vesta case was made to double as a go-to-bed matchbox.
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