Columnist: Allan Blackburn

Allan Blackburn.
Allan Blackburn.

Last week we looked at the first thing I ever bought, so I thought this week I’d tell you about the most recent thing I bought, which was just a couple of weeks ago.

It’s quite a funny story. My wife, Gloria and I were sat together at home watching BBC’s Flog It about four weeks ago and the resident expert, Anita Manning, said that in all the 40 years of being in the antiques business, she had never seen a gold vesta case. I remarked to Gloria that I hadn’t either.

For those who don’t know, a vesta case is a little match case typically carried by gentlemen, as part of their tobacco smoking kit. Many had rings so they could be attached to chains. In America, they were known as “match safes”.

The use of vesta cases was common from the mid-19th century right up until the 1940s because, despite continual advances in match technology, old matches were highly flammable and had to be kept safely.

It was also essential to keep them dry.

Well into the 20th century, matches were known by their brand name.

Bryant & May’s Swan vestas were the principal match brand, so these small collectable boxes were known as vesta cases.

They were made of a variety of different materials, usually metal.

I’ve seen plenty of silver ones, some beautifully decorated and engraved, but never one so luxurious that it was made of gold.

So, just a couple of weeks ago after watching the programme, Gloria and I were on holiday together in North Yorkshire and strolling through the antiques shops when Gloria spotted – yes you’ve guessed it – a gold vesta case.

I couldn’t believe it.

I paid £180 which I thought was cheap for what it is.

I think it’s worth a lot more than that so it’s a real bargain.

Vesta cases are incredibly popular with collectors so there are plenty of fakes and reproductions on the market.

If it’s a field you would like to collect in, then do plenty of research on the internet, in the library and look around antique centres to get an idea of realistic prices.