Our September 25th Jewellery Silver and Watches auction features a collection of beautifully crafted vesta cases. Vesta cases derive their name from the virgin goddess of the hearth, home, and family in Roman religion. Used for striking matches, the distinguishing feature of a vesta case is the ribbed surface, usually on the bottom.
Early matches often could ignite from rubbing on one another and therefore required protection. Designed to keep matches safe and, most importantly, dry, vesta cases allowed for great expression of personality and style for the smoking individual. Becoming ingrained in the 'dress code' of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, as seen from our collection, cases could come in a range of forms, from Cuban cigars to a horse’s head.
Adapted from the Georgian snuffbox, which were larger and sometimes of oval or rectangular form, the late 19th century vesta case was generally rectangular with a flip-top lid and serrated edge for the match to be 'struck' on the base, and a link to attach a watch chain. Birmingham seemed to be the centre of making for vesta cases with makers such as Sampson Mordan.
Carried predominantly by the chain loop, cases could be attached to a double ended albert and then a waistcoat, which held a pocket watch on one side and a vesta case on the other, this led to a fashion for other functionalities added, such as cigar cutters or whistles.
Vesta cases were most popular between 1890 and 1920. During this period matches were required for other domestic appliances including lighting or cooking and, as a result, most were ready with matches at all times. This need for matches allowed for a great vareity in sizes of both matches and the boxes or cases.
The style and materials used to make vesta cases also offer an insight into the social hierarchy of the day. Those with intricate enamel and gold cases were of the higher echelons. The House of Fabergé created intricate guilloche enamel versions. The wealthy would carry a box fashioned in silver, enamel or gold by Gorham and Tiffany in New York, or by Asprey, Sampson. Lower classes may carry vesta cases made of tin or lower grade metals.
Promotions also reflect the social activity of the era, with advertisers handing out vesta cases to exhibit their ware such as Tetley's or Gillette, who produced a brass razor blade case with a ribbed bottom that could be used as a vesta case after the razor blades had been used.
The collection within our September 25th sale features vesta cases which offer a wide variety of designs, including those modelled as a barrel lock or one with enamel armorials, all reflecting an insight into the late Victorian and early Edwardian life.
AUCTION | Jewellery, Silver & Watches | Wednesday 25 September at 10am
VIEWING | Sunday 22 September 12pm to 4pm | Monday 23 to Tuesday 24 September 10am to 5pm | Day of sale from 9am
LOCATION | 33 Broughton Place, Edinburgh