There is group of straw covered items of which little is known. Often the intricately patterned straw covered cases are naively misidentified as having been made during the Napoleonic War by prisoners. Sometimes the cases have been described as a “cheroot case”, a “cigar etui”, a “cigar case”, a “cigarette case”, etc.
As these cases are often referred to as cigar or cheroot accessories, The Straw Shop compared the lengths and widths of 7 cases and discovered the examples, while varying in length up to 1 inch (2.5 cm), averaged approximately 4 inches (10.3 cm) in length. The size of the case indicates they were for something much shorter than longer and larger cigars. Historically early cigars were 4 1/2 inches long (11.4 cm) while the Figuarado cigars popular in the 1800s were 7 inches (17.8cm) in length in comparison to the earlier cigarettes that were 2 3/4 inches (7 cm) in length. If not a cigar case were they for cheroots? According to the Knoll Collection early cheroot cases are described as, “Each cheroot case has two rectangular panels, made of heavily lacquered papier mache, joined together by a piece of leather. The case opens like an accordion and holds a leather insert to house the cigars. Cheroot cases were manufactured for only 40 years: 1810 to 1850.” Later cheroot cases are often misidentified as having been made to hold glasses. We learn their actual purpose from Lison de Caunes who identifies them, “These are cigarette cases, with their small match cases fitted with a bone striker on the base. The colors are frequently very bright and the marquetry is elaborate.”
The smaller box is a vesta. “Vesta cases, vesta boxes, or pocket match safes or matchsafes were small portable boxes made in a great variety of forms with snapshut covers to contain vestas (short matches) and keep them dry.” according to Wikipedia. The construction of the two fitted pieces sliding closed replaces the “snapshut covers” mentioned in the Wikipedia definition quote.
The straw covered cigarette case and vesta were probably made as a set as fashion would have dictated. These cases were not only a fashion statement but a testament to social status. This unique pairing of items, cigarette cases and vestas prompted our search to document and analyze examples of this straw work.
Today the matched pairing of the two cases is exceedingly rare. In our research thus far a matched set has yet to be located. Were they ever made as an exactly matched patterned set?
Of the two cases made, the vesta is the more difficult to find today. The vesta cases with a sand striker are the most rare. The Straw Shop will present two examples. The first example shown, with wide strips of straw adhered onto blue paper is interesting to see and learn from. The interior of this vesta is orange paper. As the straw pattern is completely different from the straw patterns shown throughout this article this vesta was probably made in a different location and time than the other vestas shown here. This vesta appears to be the only one where the straw appears to have been mounted onto blue sugar paper which is often, but not exclusively, a characteristic of earlier straw work.
The vesta case above has an almost black sand striker. It is difficult to be certain, but upon examination, the paper appears to have been applied to the case, glued and dipped into the sand.
It is important to know more about the sand striker. According to Encyclopedia.com’s article, Sandpaper, “Coated abrasives date as far back as the thirteenth century when the Chinese used crushed shells and seeds glued with natural gum to parchment. By 1769 coated abrasive paper was being sold on the streets of Paris.” An 1808 article describes a process for making coated abrasives. In 1835 a United States patent was issued for a machine that produced coated abrasives. Sandpaper has been known worldwide since 1769 if not earlier.
Here is an interior view of the same vesta case which is lined with orange paper:
The second example of a sandpaper based vesta case is shown below. The straw design on this vesta case includes strips of intricate straw work in between wider strips of straw. Perhaps this is an early transitional example of this style of straw work on a vesta.
As a point of interest the sand on this case is white, so very different from the previous example.
A peek inside this match vesta is also very interesting and colorful.
The sand striker vesta cases shown are 2 5/8 inches (6.6 cm) and 2 3/8 inches (6.1 cm) long respectively.
The next set of vesta cases shown have the bone striker as referred to by Lison de Caunes in her book, “Marqueterie de Paille”.
The 2 1/8 inches (5.4cm) long case opened reveals it’s colorful interior.
Finally a look at the bone striker:
The following photo of a vesta with it’s striker shown below is described as being approximately 2 1/4 inches (5.7 cm) long when closed.
Here is a closer look at both ends of the vesta showing the bone striker:
The following bone based vesta from The Straw Shop Collection is 2 1/2 inches (6.4 cm) long.
Opened the vesta also reveals colorful straw in the interior.
Another example from The Straw Shop Collection, measuring 2 1/2 inches (6.4 cm) long, shows the use of a much smaller, shaped bone striker than other examples presented here.
The next two images show the case opened revealing additional intricate straw work as well as brightly colored strips of straw lining the interior of the case:
The additional vesta case images shown next are rather unique in their styles. The first example shows a different shape of vesta case, this time rectangular with the bone striker shaped to fit the end.
We located a curious vesta style example, also approximately 2 1/2 inches (6.4 cm) in length. Found on Etsy and described as, “Georgian, early 19th century and made by prisoners of the Napoleonic War”. The inner piece with a recessed cavity is interesting. The base has a bone striker. The almost mauveine straw color is interesting to note. The following images show the match vesta opened and closed.
A look at the various patterns on the bone strikers indicate they were not machine scored.
Europe has a long history of tobacco use beginning with the introduction of tobacco from the New World in 1492 by explorer Christopher Columbus (1451-1506). European tobacco was soon growing in Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Turkey, and by the mid-16th century Britain and America. According to tobacco.org, in 1832 Turkey developed the first rolled paper cigarette we know today. In 1847 Philip Morris opened shop and sold hand-rolled Turkish cigarettes in England. Hand rolled cigarettes were fragile and at times mis-shapened. Due to their fragility perhaps a cigarette case was needed for their protection.
When did matches become so commonplace that you would need a case to carry them in? According to the Museum of Every Day Life, it was not until 1830 matches were produced in volume for sale in England. Other accounts for the once dangerous invention of portable matches do exist with dates ranging from 577 AD according to one Chinese reference dated 1366, to the improved “safety” matches introduced in 1855 by Swiss inventors Johan Edvard and his younger brother Carl Frans Lundström. According to TeknissaSumeet.com the brothers were awarded the silver medal for managing to manufacture matches without the workers developing phosphorus poisoning. Safety matches were expensive to produce and it wasn’t until 1868 they became known throughout the world. The safety matches did not instantaneously combust into flames when next to another match as the earlier matches produced in 1830 did. According to History of “Match Holders and Match Strikers” author Melissa Moore instructs, “In other cases, you would pour your matches into the match holder, and there would be hard ridges that you could strike the matches on; in this case, you’d be using “strike anywhere” matches which can be struck on any rough surface.” Assuming this account is accurate, the dating of the match case is probably post 1868 when the safety match became world known and available.
The companion cigarette case became our next focus of interest as they are more common than the vestas. As with the vestas the designs on these larger cases vary but show similarities to the vestas we have shown. Who made these cases? Were they the work of local craftsmen or detainees somewhere? The former curator at Peterborough Museum, Martin Howe, hinted Turkey might be the origin of this type of patterning shown in the examples but to date we have found no information substantiating his idea.
In the examples of the cigarette cases we located there are similarities in all pieces beginning with their cardboard like base structure. Despite the questionable descriptions of some of these cases by the owners, The Straw Shop would like to share the following examples of case images we located.
Further examination of known examples reveal the outer layer of straw work, applied to cardboard bases, cream-white or gray in color were adhered to either newsprint, blue paper or thin white paper.
The next photo shows you this same pattern piece has been cut from the prepared sheet of straw and applied to the top half of the cigar box shown on the left side of the image.
The sheet of prepared straw wrapped around the cardboard core as seen below is apparent.
A closer look at the cap reveals pieced together construction using additional patterns of strips of straw.
With the construction better understood, The Straw Shop found the combination of straw designs, seen in the following examples, worth noting.
Now with a better understanding of the construction we still questioned when smoking became so popular a case and matching match case were thought of as a fashionable necessity/accessory? Hand rolled cigarettes had been available in Turkey since 1832. According to Count Corti’s book, “A History of Smoking”, “It was not until after the Crimean War (1856) that the cigarette was widely circulated in Europe.” According to “Cigarette History” written by Richard Elliott, “Prior to 1880, cigarettes were packaged and sold in a bag”. It was not until James Bonsack invented the cigarette-making machine in 1881 that cigarette smoking became widespread worldwide.
The image of an 1892 Duke of Durham cigarette package suggests this industry ended the use of individually purchased hand rolled cigarettes previously stored in a bag now were available in their own case.
As matches continued to improve, it is possible the development of the paper matchbook in 1889 by Joshua Pusey, who sold his patent (US Patent No. 483,166 for Flexible Matches, issued September 27, 1892) to the Diamond Match Company, may have signaled the end of the need for personal match vestas of any sort. The match case may have been somewhat disposable as an obsolete object by the early 1900s, as match books with strikers would soon be found everywhere.
A second written reference to the cases has been discovered. Written by one of the contributing authors to the Antique Pocket Guide series of booklets, author Robert Fresco-Corbu, cites from his book, “Vesta Boxes” (1983):
“The production of small portable decorative containers for matches began some time in the mid-19th century, and appears to have reached a peak during the 1880-1914 period. In making them, the craftsmen involved let their imaginations run riot regarding ornament, shape and choice of materials. They were known at first as fusee boxes or vesta boxes, but later in the century simply as matchboxes. The term ‘vesta boxes’, which has been adopted here, is the one generally accepted by collectors and dealers. In America, they are known as ‘match safes’. “
Additionally his text describes types of materials used for vestas boxes; vulcanite, wood, fur, precious metals, paper mache, carnelian stone and straw to list a few of the materials used vouch for the popularity of the item. It is important to note his dating for vestas describes all types of vestas made. Here is his description of straw vestas from page 40 of his book Vesta Boxes, Antique Pocket Guides:
“Straw mosaic work in color, on a core of thick card, was a Spanish speciality and some vesta boxes were in the form of small etuis and the striker, made of bone suitably serrated, was placed at the bottom of the container. The designs varied from region to region (Fig 61). ” Figure 61 is described as: ” Straw mosaic work on a cardboard core, made in Spain early this century. ”
The Straw Shop acknowledges the information found in tobacciana authority Roger Presco-Corbu’s book, “Vesta Boxes”, citing the straw boxes were made in Spain “early this century” (twentieth century). Unfortunately no additional information about them is available from him. No explanation why he says Spain is their origin, how long they where made, or by whom. It is also important to note we have yet been able to substantiate his claim any further from another source. Who then is to say Mr. Martin Howe’s suggestion of Turkey as their origin is incorrect? However, if you look closely at the examples shown you can see slightly different styles of pattern and coloring. Does this tell us anything about manufacturing dates or countries of origin? Perhaps some were made in Turkey or the Eastern Mediterranean area and others in Spain. Their actual origin remains unknown at this time.
If the zenith of the production of match cases was from 1890-1920 as Wikipedia cites, or the time frame of 1890 to 1914 as Presco-Corbu’s book suggests, it is plausible the match cases and cigarette holder sets were made in the late nineteenth century into the early twentieth century. Lison de Caunes also describes them as late nineteenth century. Perhaps the production of the cases crossed from one century into another.
Both cigarette and vesta cases appear to have been victims of the industrial revolution. With the advent of the mass production of cigarettes in 1892 packaged with trading cards and the evolution of the matchbook in 1891 it is plausible these two articles for smoking may have met the end of their relevance in the early 1900s.
The Straw Shop gratefully acknowledges Lison de Caunes for her identification and documentation of the two cases. The invaluable collaboration with straw expert Veronica Main cannot be understated while preparing this account. Stogies Gold Country Lounge provided quite an education about cigars and cheroots. A special thank you to the many individuals and companies who provided images and additional documentation for this article. As always, The Straw Shop welcomes additional information on this topic.
Copyright Jan Huss 2017.
Post script: If we knew more about the needle case shown below, perhaps we would know more about the cases discussed above. This case is made using the same application of straw onto a cardboard core.