Education - The Cigarette Lighter. From the beginnings to ca. 1890´s - Part ONE

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The cigarette lighter. From the beginnings to the 1890`s. Part ONE.

The pictures in this article are from private collectors from around the world.

Today the lighter is so commonly used that almost everybody in the world knows what one is. BIC, the largest lighter manufacturer in the world, claims to sell almost 1.5 billion lighters per year. Though we take lighters for granted, if you think about it, they are an amazing invention. In any place, at any time--with only the press of a button--combustion is possible! We think the history of lighters is an interesting subject, so here is some brief information on fire making:

Fire Steels (from Wikipedia)

A fire striker (or fire steel) is a piece of high carbon or alloyed steel from which sparks are struck by the sharp edge of chert or similar rock.
In early times, percussion fire making was often used to start fires. Before the advent of steel, a variety of iron pyrite or marcasite was used with flint and other stones to produce a hightemperature spark that could be used to create fire. There are indications that the "Iceman" called Ötzi may have used iron pyrite to make fire.
From the Iron Age forward, until the invention of the friction match, the use of flint and steel, besides other invented “lighters” like the flintlock lighter, was a common method of fire lighting.
Percussion fire-starting was prevalent in Europe during ancient times, the Middle Ages and the Viking Age.
When flint and steel were used, the fire steel was often kept in a metal tinderbox together with flint and tinder.


Above: Collection of fire-steels.

Wheel-lock lighter or “Radschloss-Feuerzeug”:

The wheel-lock lighter is – according to current knowledge – the very first lighter in the strictest sense, since in this system the act of fire-making by striking or by friction is no longer released manually, but by means of a mechanism.
In the wheel-lock lighter, the end of a V-shaped spring is connected via a chain to a shaft. Seated on this shaft is a wheel having several grooves. By means of a spanner, which is engaged on the shaft, the lock is wound up. The chain is coiled around the shaft and the spring is thus tensioned. Then the cock, which has a piece of pyrite clamped between its jaws, is pressed against the wheel. When the wheel lock is disengaged, the spring is released. It uncoils the chain from the shaft and thus activates the rotational movement of the wheel seated thereon. The wheel grinding over the pyrite produces sparks, which fall onto the flammable material lying below.
The development of the wheel lock lighter is closely linked to the development of weapons technology at the turn of the 16th century. The wheel lock was probably invented in the last quarter of the 15th century in Nuremberg, and it was used for the firing of handguns, rather than the previously standard matchlock guns. Its invention was for a long time incorrectly accredited to Leonardo da Vinci.
The number of surviving wheel-lock lighters is very small. It appears that these were individuallyproduced items. (A handful is known about, held in museums. One in the former Bryant and May Museum of Fire-Making-Appliances ((which is today housed in the Science Museum, London)), another roughly tooled example lies in the “Deutsche Museum in Munich”).


Above: “Radschloß-Feuerzeug” ca. 1580


“Radschloß-Feuerzeug” concealed in a book. Later version. Ca. 18 Century.

Flintlock Lighter(from Wikipedia)

The flintlock was developed in France in the early 17th century. Though its exact origins are not known, credit for the development of the flintlock is usually given to Marin le Bourgeoys, an artist, gunsmith, luthier (maker of stringed musical instruments) and inventor from Normandy, France.
Marin le Bourgeoys's basic design became the standard for flintlocks and quickly replaced older firing mechanisms throughout Europe. Flintlock weapons based on this design were used for over two centuries, until they were finally replaced by percussion locks in the 1840s and 1850s.
A typical flintlock mechanism has a piece of flint which is held in place in between a set of jaws on the end of a short hammer. This hammer (sometimes called the cock) is pulled back into the "cocked" position. When released by the trigger, the spring-loaded hammer moves forward, causing the flint to strike a piece of steel called the "frizzen". At the same time, the motion of the flint and hammer pushes the frizzen back, opening the cover to the pan, which contains the gunpowder. As the flint strikes the frizzen it creates a spark which falls into the pan and ignites the powder. Flame burns through a small hole into the barrel of the gun and ignites the main powder charge, causing the weapon to fire.



Flinlock Lighter with Alarmclock and Candle. When the Alarmclock rang, the flintlocklighter striked, then a compartment flipped open and a ignited candle came to fore. Signed French ca. 1780.


When the trigger is released the barrel splits open and an ignite candle pops up.

Above: Collection of Walnut Flintlocklighters (sorry for bad picture).

  • Simple Flintlock lighters from the 18th or 19th century can be bought at auctions for decent prices. They often sell between 200$ to 500$. This is cheap for an antique piece with history!

The Electric Mashines. The Füstenberger/Voltage and Gerzabeck lighter: 1780-1830.

An electrophorus is a simple manual capacitivegenerator used to produce electrostatic charge via the process of electrostatic induction
The electrophorus consists of a dielectric plate (originally a 'cake' of resinous material such as pitch or wax, but in modern versions plastic is used) and a metal plate with an insulating handle. The dielectric plate is first charged through the triboelectric effect by rubbing it with fur or cloth. The metal plate is then placed onto the dielectric plate. Positioned in front of the gas outlet nozzle are two electrodes, one of which is connected to the electrophorus, and the other of which is connected to a small metal ball which is fixed above the metal plate to act as a contact. The resulting voltage excess in the metal plate is dissipated in that spark-over between the electrodes occurs, thus igniting the streaming out hydrogen. The dielectric does not transfer a significant fraction of its surface charge to the metal because the microscopic contact is poor. Instead the electrostatic field of the charged dielectric causes the charges in the metal plate to separate. It develops two regions of charge — the positive charges in the plate are attracted to the side facing down toward the dielectric, charging it positively, while the negative charges are repelled to the side facing up, charging it negatively, with the plate remaining electrically neutral as a whole. Then, the side facing up is momentarily grounded (which can be done by touching it with a finger), draining off the negative charge. Finally, the metal plate, now carrying only one sign of charge (positive in our example), is lifted.
The people of that era, which was one characterized by a thirst for scientific discovery and particular enthusiasm for physical gadgets, were highly impressed. The ignition of an unknown, invisible gas by means of a lightning-like arc-over meant that the flame produced from out of nowhere seemed to a certain extent supernatural and this earned the electric lighters the name "philosophical lamps". Only the wealthy were able to afford these ignition devices.
However, the electric lighters presented significant dangers. The use of hydrogen gas called for particular precautions, as the hydrogen in the gas container could not under any circumstances be mixed with air. The thus-created hazardous gas/air mixture could explode on ignition.
The electric ignition devices became more practicable when a replacement for the electrophorus was found, which of course always had to be manually charged. In 1815, the Munich instrument maker Johann Gerzabeck built an electrostatic generator into the electric lighters to replace the electrophorus. This electrostatic generator consisted of a round glass plate, which rotated between two leather cushions coated with amalgam, and whose rotational movement was activated when the gas tap was opened.
With Gerzabeck, decorative development of electric lighters reached its height.


Above: Fürstenberger /Volta lighter mashines. Made around 1780-1800. Walnut cases.


Above: Biedermaier-Gerzabeck lighter, Walnut case around 1820

Döbereiner Lighter:

Döbereiner's lamp is a lighter invented in 1823 by the German chemist Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner, the lighter is based on the Fürstenberger lighter and was in production until ca. 1880.
Döbereiner was born in Hof an der Saale in Germany in 1780. His beginnings were simple. He was largely self-educated, the son of a coachman. But Döbereiner's talents were recognized, and in 1810 he was appointed to a professorship in Jena. This town was in the Grand Duchy of Saxe-WeimarEisenach, a princely state under the administration at just that time of another Johann Wolfgang, namely Goethe. Goethe and Döbereiner had an extensive correspondence, inter alia dealing with the tarnishing of silver spoons in red cabbage and the composition of Mme. Pompadour's toothpaste. Goethe went to Jena to study analytical chemistry with Döbereiner. circa 1823:
Johann Wolfgang Dobereiner discovers the catalytic process resulting in the invention of Dobereiner's Lamp which was in production until circa 1880. It is a catalyst lighter that produces hydrogen gas which is ignited using platinum as a catalyst. Since the Dobereriner lighters produced hydrogen gas, they could also unexpectedly explode.
The Feuerzeug was a huge sucsess, with an estimated 20,000 in use by 1828.


Above: Döbereiner lighter witch clock. In the background you can see several other döbereiners.
These are museums pieces. However a few months ago one very similar to this sold on ebay for 700$. Bad description, wrong category, bad pictures. True Value around 10.000$.

Pneumatic Lighter:

This lighter has been used by the natives of southeastern Asia and the adjacent east Indian chripelago until the 19th century. The contrivance was patented in Britain in 1807, apparently as a new scientific discovery and was used to a limited extent, in main, a mere scientific toy. It consists of a piston, holding in a small cavity in its face, a tiny fragment of tinder, which fits tightly into a small tube or cylinder of either metal, bone, wood, or horn, having a closed end. It works by compressing a small quantity of air to compel it suddenly and forcibly to yield enough of its latent heat to ignite the tinder. - Think of your bicycle pump, it works very similar.


Above: Pneumatic Pocket lighter.

The Cap Lightes:

The ignition hammer is activated by the push button in combination with the opening of the lid. The cap tape is transported automatically. circa 1880:
The first 'fuse' lighter is introduced. A fuse (comes from 'fuse' as used on early cannons) is a cord impregnated with chemicals to assist it in burning - not quickly where a flame would be produced, but slowly and without an open flame. In the early versions a gear system was used to turn a fire steel to produce sparks and ignite the fuse. Later versions used the fuse as a wick immersed in gasoline in a tank - the beginnings of the more modern flint and petrol lighter. The fuse was extinguished by covering it with a cap, denying the oxygen necessary to burn.
In 1889 a newer inventions were produced. These used percussion caps (like toy cap pistols) on a cardboard disc to ignite a gasoline soaked fuse (a wick, if you please). This is another step closer to the "modern" pocket lighter as we know it. This was probably a very noisy lighter, so everyone would know when you were lighting up! These lighters can be picked up for around 100$ to 300$.




By turning the wheel several times clockwise the gear inside starts to wind up (like a pocket watch). Then press a button and the mechanic starts to run by spinning a amorce /sandstone corundum shaped as a wheel against a hard metal, it starts to spark.

I hope you liked this post so far. In the next post I will show you the "modern" lighters from 1900 (Art Nouveau) through to the roaring twenties (Art Dèco). On this blog you will find usefull information on collecting. Collecting Design, colleting and investing in Silver. Mainly affordable pieces from 1900 to 1940.

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