Left Alliance

A Brief History of Match Strikers

A match striker is a small object that has quite a grand history. In fact, your grandparents or even great-grandparents probably used one. A match strike has a cup to store matches, a rough surface on which to ‘strike’ them and a lid to keep them dry and safe. Match strikers were especially popular in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where they were often used to light cigars, cigarettes, pipes, candles, fireplaces and stoves. They also made a very effective promotional item for alcohol and tobacco companies, with many incorporating a distinctive design or pattern.

A unique reproduction French old match strike (called a ‘pyrogene’ in French) similar to antique originals found throughout 19th and 20th century France. It was common to see them sitting on a bistro or bar table as customers prepared for an absinthe drink during the Belle Epoque. Match strikes served a threefold purpose: the top cylindrical container securely harbored matches, the ribbed base was used to strike and ignite the matches, and the decorative exterior was often utilized for branding.

Match strikers were a popular accessory for smokers because they allowed them to quickly light their cigarettes without having to open the box or find a lighter. They could also be stored in the kitchen or home for easy access. Match strikers are still being produced today and are often crafted from ceramic, stoneware, porcelain and metals. They are a beautiful decorative touch to any coffee table or shelf. Many phillumenists, collectors of match-related paraphernalia, seek antique match strikers to add to their collection.

On 15th June 1888, the Fabian Society held a meeting, at which Clementina Black and Herbert Burrows spoke about the poor working conditions in the Bryant and May factory, where most of the workforce was young teenage girls. They were forced to work gruelling six day weeks and worked for meagre wages, with fines imposed for petty offences such as talking or having an untidy work bench. They were also at risk of contracting phossy jaw, a painful and debilitating bone disease caused by the chemical white phosphorus used in the manufacture of matches.

The following day Annie Besant, the founder of the Matchgirls’ Strike Committee, met with the Matchgirls at the factory gates, to discuss their demands. They agreed that the Directors of the Company should meet with the Strike Committee, and that they would provide a room for the workers to eat their meals in away from the production area and a barrow be provided to carry the matchboxes so that they did not have to be carried on the girls’ heads. They also requested that a meeting be held to discuss the pay scales. The demand was accepted, and the strike was called off on 5th July 1888. The victory of the Matchgirls inspired Dockers to take up the call to strike, which ultimately led to the formation and growth of the Labour Party.