|traditional Gold Vesta boxes with striker plate and
available plain or engraved
John Walker, a chemist from Stockton-on-Tees, invented the match ( "Friction Lights") in 1826.They were ignited by placing the head of the light between a folded piece of sandpaper, then sharply withdrawing it.
In 1832 Richard Bell started producing a new phosphorus match that had been invented by a young Frenchman named Charles Sauria. It had the great advantage that it would strike on anything hard.
But friction matches were
hazardous (they could explode in ones pocket) so they
required protection in a fire-proof container that could be
easily carried. Early on many of these little cases became
jewelry-like and masterfully made though the majority remained
utilitarian and commercial. Similar to the evolution of the
snuff box, the finest match safes were made from gold,
silver or plate in designs characteristic of the period.
The late Georgians, and even more so the Victorians, Edwardians,
and the fanciers of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, loved the
strike-anywhere-match and they constructed ingenious and
beautiful boxes in which to keep them. As women picked up
the smoking habit they, too, had an effect on the aesthetics of
lighting devices. Match safes were known in England as vesta
cases or vesta boxes or just vestas.
Vesta is the Roman goddess of the
hearth fire. Vesta is one of the most ancient of the Roman
deities, and her cult goes back to the 7th century BC.Vesta
had one temple in Rome, the Temple of Vesta in the Forum
Romanum. Inside the round temple burnt the eternal fire, the
symbolic hearth of Rome and all the Roman people.
The fire was guarded by her priestesses, the Vestales who had to observe absolute chastity for 30 years (hence the name the Vestal virgins). The Romans celebrated Vestalia on June 7th.