Old Match Strikes

Match strikers—small containers used to store and strike matches—are a charming reminder that before the invention of electric lights, fire was a vital part of life. They are often spherical, conical, or figural and were most popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe. Today phillumenists (collectors of matchbooks and matchsticks) continue to be fascinated by these sturdy, egalitarian objects.

In June 1888 old match strikes  social reformer Annie Besant, who had recently given a speech on female labor, interviewed several matchstick workers. She published a scathing expose of the working conditions at the Bryant and May factory in the newspaper The Link. In response the company owners tried to force the women to deny Besant’s allegations, but they refused and a strike was born.

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The striking matchwomen were dismissed as a “rough set of girls” and ranked in the lowest strata of society, but they refused to be silenced. They held meetings, made speeches, and even arranged for three MPs to meet with them. They also formed a committee, the Match Girls’ Committee, which led to discussions with Bryant and May about their demands and to a union for matchwomen.

These old match strikes, which are typically made of porcelain, metal, or stoneware, have a top cylindrical container to hold matches and a ribbed surface for striking them. They can be used to accent any space in your home, including coffee tables, mantels, and bar carts. They can also be used as wedding favors, theatre props, and more.

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