Matches are used for a purpose. That is, to ignite a flame when struck against a rough, dry surface.
Very early matches dating from the mid-nineteenth century were dangerous since they could burst into flame. Flaming balls sometimes fell on the floor and could set light to carpets and ladies’ dresses. Germany and France banned them. Thus, they had to be sold in boxes, some made of tin, others of ceramics or wood. These had roughened patches on which to strike the match. Subsequently, a few years later Samuel Jones patented a match sold as ‘lucifers’, manufactured by Ezekial Byam in the US. The slang term persisted up to the twentieth century. It can be heard, for example, in the WWI song ‘Pack up your Troubles’. Cheap boxes bore advertisements, funny lines or suggestive music hall songs. During the latter war the Air Raid Patrol and the Civil Defence received these as part of their kit. Some bear military insignia or heraldic devices. Furthermore, the tourist trade discovered them.
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White phosphorus, a very toxic substance, was used on match heads. Because of dangerous working conditions leading to illness, matchgirls organized a strike against its use in 1888. A strike fund was set up by a number of newspapers Following this, 50 percent red phosphorus was used instead, together with other ingredients. Meanwhile, friction matches made with white phosphorus were very popular in the US. Particularly as they ignited on any suitable surface, as often seen in Western films. Incidentally, their use is banned on board planes since they are classified as dangerous goods.
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While matches are still useful for various motives, such as lighting fires, nowadays matchboxes and holders are widely collected and many can be found online for just a few dollars. On the other hand, rare collections could cost up to $300. To say nothing of a rare nineteenth century Pennsylvania monkey man and jug match holder estimated at around $7,000.