Sunday 23 May 2021

Vesta Cases - A guide to collecting

Vesta Cases

Vesta cases are small portable boxes made to contain matches and keep them dry. They take their name from the Roman goddess of fire and the hearth, although in the United States they are more prosaically know as match safes.

  • By Roland Arkell

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When they first came into use in the 1830s, friction matches were hazardous and could combust without warning, so vesta cases were something of a necessity.

But as their production became more sophisticated, they came to say much about the status, wealth and personality of their owner. Part of the essential 'dress code' of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, they were made in a range of materials and in a bewildering number of forms, from the purely functional to the deluxe and the novel.

In short, with such a huge scope in terms of variety and price levels, these are perfect collectables.

What Do People Collect?

While the first 'strike anywhere' matches appeared on the market at the end of the Georgian era (the English chemist John Walker marketed a sulphur-tipped splint called a Congreve as early as 1827) the vesta box had its hey-day during the decades either side of 1900.

In America, in Europe and in Japan they were produced extensively from the 1880s (when the fashion for cigarette smoking began) to the 1920s when they were superseded by the more durable and functional petrol lighter and the throwaway 'matchbook' - the small paperboard folders enclosing a quantity of 'tear-off' matches that emerged as a popular vehicle for commercial advertising in the early 20th century.

Petrol lighters and matchbooks both have their own collecting followings outside the area of vesta cases.
Given that almost every Edwardian carried matches, to light not just a 'smoke' but also stoves and lamps, the range of vesta boxes is huge.

The common man carried his matches in a straightforward box made of tin, gunmetal or vulcanite - perhaps a promotional giveaway advertising a popular brand.

Those a rung further up the social scale could perhaps afford a silver box or a plated brass novelty. The wealthy would carry a box fashioned in silver, enamel or gold by Gorham and Tiffany in New York, or by Asprey, Sampson Mordan and Henry William Dee in London.

Adapted from the Georgian snuffbox, the typical vesta case was a shaped rectangle with a flip-top lid, a serrated edge or a ribbed 'strike' on its base, and a link to attach a watch chain. The vast majority of these, made by the silversmiths in Birmingham, are plain or simply engraved/chased with initials or fashionable motifs. These become more desirable when set with semi-precious or precious stones or decorated with enamel sporting scenes, gambling motifs, advertising logos, club crests or alluring semi-clad woman.

There are also 'combination' vestas that incorporate additional features (such as cigar cutters, a small knife blade or apertures for sovereigns or stamps) and the larger standing or 'table' vestas made for use at home by the hearth or in the smoking room.
But alongside the straightforward rectangular or cylindrical box, a myriad of novelty shapes have been recorded, from corsets to coffins, pigs to Mr Punch.

Many were made in brass rather than silver but the forms are extremely attractive to collectors.

The Market

Vesta cases being small, portable and easy to describe, the market for them has prospered in the era of online trading. Founded in 1998 by a handful of enthusiasts from three countries, the International Match Safe Association now has members from the United States, England, Canada, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, Portugal, Germany, Japan, Israel and New Zealand.

The range in prices of the items they collect is as wide as the objects themselves. Straightforward examples in base metal will cost just a few pounds, most Edwardian silver vestas bring £20-50 at auction, while some of the more common brass novelties (pigs, violins, rooster heads, Mr Punch) can be bought for under £100.

However, prices rise into the hundreds for scarcer forms. Some of these have cross-market interest. Many vesta cases are admired by collectors of small silver novelties while those based on themes such as the railways, the theatre, royal commemoratives, commercial advertising or sports and pastimes (golf bags, rugby balls, football boots, fishing creels and the like) command interest from several collecting quarters.

Many of the most desirable English vesta cases are late 19th century boxes with enamel decoration by Sampson Mordan & Co. At the highest level are a series of boxes modelled as sentry boxes occupied by variously enamelled guards (£1500-5000), boxes enamelled with Victorian golfers or hunting scenes (£1500-5000) or those enamelled with a seaside Punch and Judy tent, featuring Mr Punch, Judy, Toby the Dog and a drummer (£5000-plus).

Greater sums still have been paid for some of the finest American-made match safes.

The large premiums placed upon enamelled boxes have seen a number of forgeries on the market. It pays to be aware of originally plain vesta cases that have been recently decorated with commercial scenes, typically of a sporting, gambling or erotic nature.

These aside, condition is always important. Splits to seams, dents, rubbed hallmarks, broken springs or damage to hinges will impact price.

Tuesday 18 May 2021


 Teacup Treasures: A Primer For Collectors



It all started innocently enough. We needed some props, so I popped into a vintage shop downtown to see if I could pick up a few cute vintage teacups. The prices surprised me – $25, $30, even $50 or more for a single cup and saucer? I could buy a whole tea service at Home Goods for that much. My only purchase that day was a $12 tea cup with a saucer that had been repaired – good enough for a prop, I figured.

Flea market visits resulted in a few more select purchases, but they were obligatory – pretty enough to use for work, but nothing that got me excited about collecting. That changed when I found treasure at Goodwill. I almost overlooked the pretty cup and saucer, hand painted with violets.  I flipped it over to check the price and saw, to my surprise, the magic words “Haviland Limoges” and a price of just $4.99. Something inside me stirred.

Mikasa Antique Garden Teacup

I checked all the shelves again and found nearby another cup and saucer, this one with a familiar pink and red rose pattern, similar to one I’d bought at a flea market recently. But whereas that one had been produced in China, this one said “bone china” and “Made in England.” The price on this one was just $3.99. I was hooked! For me, it’s not about the cups themselves – I could easily find dozens of beautiful tea cups at my local vintage shops, if I was willing to pay their prices. But I love the thrill of finding the unexpected treasure for a bargain price. Bit by bit, my collection of tea cups and saucers is beginning to grow, and I love the feeling I get when I find something new.

Tips for Tea Cup Collecting

I can’t in any way proclaim to be an expert on tea cups or china, but here are some of the basics I’ve picked up so far. Above all, buy what you love. Tea cup collecting isn’t something to go into as a money making scheme. Choose cups with shapes, patterns and colors that delight your eye and thrill your soul when you see them displayed in your home.

Porcelain versus Bone China

Porcelain is a technical term that refers specifically to a type of hard clay (kaolin clay) only found in China. When fired at intense heat, it has a glassy or translucent surface and is very delicate. Various European craftsmen tried to replicate this product with different kinds of clay to various success,  including those from Limoges, France. Bone china is made by mixing bone ash in with the clay, a process that was invented by Josiah Spode in England in the 1790s. It is stronger and whiter than porcelain, and therefore became very popular throughout Europe.

Vintage teacups and teapot on display.
Photo by Bret Gum.

Tea cups versus Coffee Cups

While it may seem of little practical difference, there are technical differences between coffee cups and tea cups. Tea cups tend to be smaller, more delicate, more ornate and their handles are higher on the side than coffee cups. You can also find demitasse cups in many patterns and styles.

Country of Origin

Most tea cups will have a mark on the bottom that indicates their country of origin and the company that produced it. It might even include the name of the pattern and the date it was produced. You can use online resources to help you track down  information about these marks if you’re interested in knowing more.

There are pretty tea cups available from all over the world, including England, France, China and Japan. Always collect what you like, of course, but one approach to building a collection is to focus on one country or period. Tea cups marked “Occupied Japan,” from the period following World War 2, are considered particularly collectible. But watch out for cheap modern replicas that are tagged “Made in China.”

Tea Cup Manufacturers of Note

As you start to engage in tea cup collecting more and more, you’ll begin to recognize certain manufacturers and patterns that appeal to you. You can research specific details online and in reference guides for collectors. Some of the more notable ones include:

Mixing and Matching Teacups and Saucers

When buying a teacup and saucer set, check carefully to make sure they are an actual match – don’t just compare the pattern, but look at the mark on the bottom to ensure they were produced together. A mismatched set should have a reduced price.

On the other hand, many people enjoy the charming novelty of mismatched cups and saucers. If monetary value isn’t an issue for you, then feel free to mix them us as desired!

Friday 7 May 2021

Antique Tobacco Tin Value Guide


Antique Tobacco Tin Value Guide

We handle all types of tobacco tins and tobacciana from single items to entire collections. The types of tins listed show what types of things make for a valuable tin and what things don’t. Our buyers are most interested in rare and high grade tins and we try to be selective to give them the best offerings on the market. If you believe you have tins or tobacciana that we might be interested in, then please contact us via email, phone, or use our contact form.

Factors that Determine the Value of a Tobacco Tin:

  • Rarity: The rarity of any collectible item will drastically affect its value. Tins with only a few known examples will naturally bring higher prices from collectors than tins that you can buy by the box or that always have 10 or 20 for sale on ebay at all times. How can you know if your tin is rare or common? Check the categories below and see if your tin meets the typical features of any given category, if you’re still not sure then get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to take a look at your tobacciana items and help you decide the best way to deal with them.
  • Demand: The second main factor affecting the price of collectibles is demand. Even if you have an incredibly rare item in terms of the fact that you can’t find them often, if collectors aren’t competing to buy it, then the value will still be low. To achieve high prices, you need both rarity AND demand from collectors. Many people get hung up on the idea of whether something is rare, without considering if anyone out there actually wants to buy it. You’ll see this phenomenon all the time on ebay when someone has their “RARE” item up for hundreds or thousands of dollars and it sits there for weeks or months without selling. We only deal with items that collectors are hungry for and we spare you Ebay’s harsh fee structure so we know we can get you a good price for your tobacciana items.
  • Design: The design of a tin also affects its value, collectors love to see tins with attractive designs and good colors. The most valuable tins you’ll see on the market almost always have beautiful designs such as the Taxi or Gold Dust tin. There are valuable tins out there with rather simple designs as well but those are the exception rather than the rule and we can help give you the information to make an informed decision about how desirable any given tin will be. Another issue with tin design is with subtle variants of tins that are much more valuable than the standard design, these include things like the Prince Albert “Now King” tin which are worth much much more than the standard tin that looks nearly identical to it, having someone who knows what they’re looking at is important because it means we advertise items properly and you don’t get ripped off.
  • Condition: As with all types of collectibles, condition is king. In many cases a tin in near-mint condition can bring ten times or more the value of the same tin as a grade 6. Additionally, condition increases the value at an almost exponential rate where the difference between a grade 8 and grade 9 is much larger than the difference between a grade 7 and grade 8.

Factors that Don’t Determine the Value of a Tobacco Tin:

  • Age: Many people I talk to get hung up on the age of the tin they have and how old it is exactly. While this might be nice to know, it really doesn’t affect the value in a significant way, if you have two of the exact same tin and one is 5 years or 10 years older than the other, they still have the same value to collectors. One of the reasons most collectors don’t care about this, is because with many tins it’s just impossible to date them properly so people stopped worrying about it. The other reason is that collectors aren’t buying the tins to fill a date gap in their collection, they’re after the “look” of the tin so that their display of tins looks good, it really doesn’t matter how old the tin is exactly if it has the right look.
  • Tobacco Inside: Frequently, I deal with folks who have a tin with the tobacco still inside and they think that that will help increase the value. Sadly, the presence or absence of the tobacco inside doesn’t affect the value. Collectors are after the tins for the aesthetic appeal of the graphics, not the actual product sold inside. Tins that are still completely sealed and in near mint can see a small premium but that value is based on the like new condition, not the presence of the tobacco itself.

Entry Level Collectible Tobacco Tins:

Entry Level Tobacco Tins usually sell for less than $20 each and many can be found for as low as a few dollars. Almost all entry level tins are very common and easily available on ebay to anyone interested or may be less common but were made later in the 60′s or later ( if there is a bar code on the tin, it won’t be valuable). I also include in this category, lower condition tins of mid level rarity tins. Common brands seen as entry level tins are Prince Albert, Velvet, Tuxedo, Sir Walter Raliegh, Dill’s Best, Model, and Union Leader. There are rare variants for most of these brands as well, but 99% of these tins will be common and worth $5 or less. We do not take these types of tins on consignment because they are just too common.

Mid Level Collectible Tobacco Tins:

Mid Level Tobacco Tins usually sell for $20-80 and include tins that are somewhat scarce, have moderate demand, or for whatever reason collectors are willing to pay elevated prices for. If your tin isn’t one of the brands mentioned in the Entry Level section, but it’s not listed on the site, then it’s probably a mid level tin. However, we don’t have every tin out there listed on the site so if you think your tin might be valuable, feel free to send us a picture to look at and we’ll be happy to help. We occasionally will have mid-level tins for sale at auction if they are part of a larger collection.

High End Collectible Tobacco Tins:

High End Collectible Tobacco Tins are those that advanced and experienced collectors are actively looking for. This usually means that these tins are fairly rare and don’t come up for sale often. This combination of rarity and demand drives prices up into the hundreds and sometimes even the thousands of dollars. To bring top prices tins need to be in good condition without areas of the lithography scraped off, without fading, rust, dents or other defects and preferably with a nice shine to the finish of the tin. Our collectors are very interested in these tins and we love to be able to offer them, bringing strong prices for sellers.

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