Cigarettes and tobacco were very prominent during the 19th and 20th century. Therefore, lighter manufacturers constantly wanted to develop new technologies and create unique ways for smokers to light up their cigarettes.
This led to several innovative lighter designs being patented in a short period, both in Europe and in the United States. Naturally, when there’s so much innovation and variety in a specific product, collectors tend to gravitate towards it.
Antique cigarette lighters have always had fanatic collectors searching for them. While there have been many famous lighter manufacturers, the most popular one, undoubtedly, is Zippo. Every antique lighter collector wants to get their hands on an antique Zippo lighter with a unique design or personalized customization.
But, in the end, are antique Zippo lighters worth collecting? How much should you pay for one and where can you find them? If you want the answers to these questions, keep on reading!
In this article, we’ll look at the history of Zippo lighters, how to date them and how to determine their value. We’ll also discuss different types of vintage lighters, in case you don’t fancy the ones from Zippo.
History of Zippo Lighters
The story of the Zippo lighter company begins during the 1930s. Its founder, George Grant Blaisdell, decided to modify an Austrian windproof lighter to be more effective and easier to operate.
He maintained the chimney design that ensured a windproof flame, added a lid with a hinge, and enclosed it in a small rectangular case. Thus, the first Zippo pocket lighter was born in 1932, and since then, the brand has sold more than 500 million lighters.
George Blaisdell established the Zippo Manufacturing Company in Bradford, Pennsylvania, in 1932. Blaisdell also came up with the name Zippo as a wordplay on the word zipper. The first patent for a Zippo lighter was filed in 1934 and was granted by the US Patent Office in 1936.
During World War II, Zippo decided to cease its production of consumer lighters and focus all of it on the US military. This turned the brand into an American icon and has played a significant part in Zippo’s success and fame for many decades.
Initially, Zippo lighters were made of brass. But, during the War, they changed the manufacturing material to steel with a black crackle finish due to the shortage of brass. During the 1950s, Zippo got its second patent for a lighter with a design that remains essentially the same today.
Zippo lighters were also very popular during the Vietnam War when it became common for soldiers to have Zippo lighters with personal engravings on them. These Vietnam Era vintage Zippo lighters are highly coveted by any collector of antique Zippo lighters.
In recent decades, particularly since the 2000s, the owners of Zippo expanded the company and purchased several other brands, including competitor Ronson Consumer Products Corporation.
Due to the reduction of smokers and the lower sales of new Zippo lighters, the company has broadened its production to include more consumer products. Nowadays, you can find Zippo-branded watches, glasses, and leisure clothing, among others. In 2018, Zippo patented the unique click sound of its lighter, one of the most recognizable sounds worldwide.
What Are the Different Types of Vintage Lighters?
From the first-ever lighter in 1823 to the ubiquitous modern-day BIC lighter, there have been numerous different types of lighters. The most significant change for lighters came in 1903 when Baron Carl von Welsbach discovered and patented the flint (also known as ferrocerium).
This technology allowed manufacturers to design and produce pocketable lighters and is still in use today. There were several manufacturers, apart from Zippo and Ronson, that made vintage lighters, including:
- Evans Case Company
- Colibri Group
- American Safety Razor Company
If you want to start a vintage lighter collection, several books and online resources -like the Vintage Lighter Book– can assist you in your research. Generally, vintage lighters can be categorized into different types. The most common ones are:
Automatic Match Lighter
This type of vintage lighter came in several different shapes and sizes. Its function revolves around a match that is pushed with the press of a button and strikes a steel scriber to ignite. The same scriber would hold the match in place for you to use.
Pellet Match Lighter
This lighter functions similarly to the automatic match lighter; however it utilizes pellets instead of matches. These small pellets resembling classic matches’ heads were easier to ignite and hold in place. This type of lighter is rare and was produced for a short time.
This is one of the oldest types of antique lighters. It was designed to be stationary on a table. It featured a large container for fuel on its base and utilized a fusee to ignite.
Cap lighters are the most similar to modern-day lighters. They feature a metal cap on the inside which helps with the ignition process. Zippo lighters also fall under the category of cap lighters.
This type of lighter utilizes the most primitive way to light a fire. With the press of a button, a steel piece spins against a surface made of stone which produces sparks. These sparks then light up a fusee.
Another type of lighter that utilizes speed and friction to ignite. It’s very similar to a friction lighter but features a button on the side of the lighter.
How Do I Tell How Old My Zippo Is?
Zippo began to stamp the bottom of Zippo lighters with specific date codes during the mid-1950s. Initially, this was a measure for quality control. However, it turned out to be an excellent tool for collectors to determine the era of their lighter and verify its authenticity.
Unfortunately, older Zippo lighters don’t really have a way to trace their exact date. But, the original patent ones, as well as the black crackle ones, are characteristic and easy to distinguish.
If you’re unsure about the date of your old Zippo, you can refer to professional appraisers or experienced collectors to help you determine it.
The modern date code system Zippo uses involves a letter and a two-digit number. The first 12 letters (A through L) are used to determine the month. The two-digit number refers to the year of manufacture (13 for 2013).
If you want to learn more about Zippo’s date codes, you can visit this website.
How Can You Tell if a Lighter Is Vintage?
Generally, an item is considered vintage if it’s more than 40 years old, whereas it’s regarded as an antique if it’s more than 100 years old. Since lighters have been around for less than 200 years, very few antique ones have survived.
Also, these antique lighters varied significantly in shape and size, making them hard to distinguish. Some general rules when looking for antique lighters are that they have a metallic luster and antique finish, are either rectangular or circular and have a size of approximately a palm of a hand.
Vintage lighters, on the other hand, are much easier to find. Especially vintage Zippo lighters from the 1950s and after are readily available since they were mass-produced and stamped with a date code.
What Are Old Zippo Lighters Worth?
Despite vintage Zippo lighters being highly collectible, they aren’t as expensive as you might assume. This is because Zippo still produces several of these lighters along with new limited edition ones. Therefore, a collector can choose to collect modern Zippo lighters that are easier to find than vintage ones.
Generally, each vintage Zippo lighter will cost you less than $50. That’s excluding the limited edition ones, which will cost slightly more. Also, some special commemorative editions can reach up to several hundreds of dollars.
Additionally, just like any antique item, the value of antique lighters, including Zippo lighters, is also affected by a few factors. These are:
The manufacturing date of Zippo lighters can significantly affect their prices, as lighters from particular eras are much more popular and coveted by collectors. The process of determining the age of an old Zippo lighter is aided significantly by Zippo’s date codes.
Some famous Zippo lighters include those from the Vietnam Era and those from the Art Deco era.
Naturally, not all vintage Zippo lighters are easy to find. There are those which are significantly more rare than others and, thus, much more expensive.
Apart from the limited edition and commemorative ones, some of the rarest Zippo lighters are those from the 1930s and the 1940s. After that, Zippo began mass-producing their lighters, making them more readily available.
Similarly to all vintage items, the value of vintage Zippo lighters can vary depending on their condition. A lighter in excellent condition that comes in its original box will be more valuable than one that’s not working, has heavy scratches or marks, or lacks a box.
Thankfully, since Zippo lighters are known for being robust and reliable, you’ll most likely find one in good working condition. Also, thanks to Zippo’s signature lifetime guarantee, you might be able to fix one that’s broken.
Some of the most popular and iconic vintage Zippo lighters are:
First Patent Zippo Lighters
The original Zippo lighters that were made under the first patent of 1934 are some of the rarest and most collectible vintage Zippo lighters. They feature a streamlined design that is slightly elongated and thinner than the classic Zippo lighter.
They were originally made in different finishes, including brass, gunmetal, and chrome. If you’re lucky enough to find a genuine Zippo from this era, be prepared to pay a pretty penny for it.
Black Crackle Zippo Lighters
Another very popular vintage Zippo is the black crackle one that was prevalent during the World War II era. Zippo manufactured these lighters solely for the US military, using a different, more rounded design and a nickel or high polish chrome finish.
These lighters were also painted with black crackle paint to avoid the attention of enemy soldiers. Since this lighter was the one that skyrocketed Zippo to its iconic status, it’s naturally the most collectible one. If you find one in good condition, you’ll have to pay a few hundred dollars for it.
Mid-Century Zippo Lighters
Once the War ended, Zippo began mass-producing their lighters under the second patent of 1950. These lighters are very similar to modern-day lighters in design. Also, the simplicity in the design of the mid-century Zippo lighters made them the perfect canvas for advertising.
Several companies decided to use Zippo’s fame to advertise their logo and attract new clients. Some of the most famous collaborations include those with Harley Davidson and Playboy. Despite their popularity, these lighters are often easy to find for a great price of less than $50.
Vietnam Era Zippo Lighters
Zippo lighters from the Vietnam War era are very popular due to their historical significance and uniqueness. While their design is the classic Zippo design, these lighters were the first ones to be customized by individual soldiers.
Therefore, there are numerous different variations that are decorated with military insignia, pin-up girls, or biblical scriptures. Each one of these unique vintage Zippo lighters tells the story of the soldier who owned it, which gives them tremendous value for collectors.
Vintage Zippo lighters are fascinating items. Despite being common everyday items, their heritage and history make them some of the most popular collectibles with numerous fans worldwide. Their affordability and timeless design also make them usable today.
If you want to start a collection of vintage Zippo lighters, you can find plenty of them online on sites like eBay or Etsy. Make sure to do your research and be able to distinguish each model, so you don’t get scammed. You should also use Zippo’s lighter fluid with every Zippo lighter for optimal performance.
In any case, go out there and start building your collection of vintage Zippo lighters. You never know what hidden treasures you might find!
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