The collector: Eldon Baldon, Baltimore, US.
The collection: Vintage lighters.
The story behind the collection...
I’ve been collecting vintage cigarette lighters for over twenty years. Though I’ve lived in Baltimore for most of my adult life, I grew up in rural Maryland where my fascination with vintage lighters began.
Since I was a teenager, I’ve enjoyed sifting through flea markets, yard sales, antique shops, thrift stores, etc. for newfound curiosities. I found my first vintage lighter at a flea market when I was 16, a sterling silver arm lift lighter made in Mexico during the 1940s. It was about the size of a half dollar. Having only been exposed to Bics and Zippos, I fell in love with the uniqueness of its shape. Its craftsmanship and durability was in stark contrast to the comparatively generic disposable and flip-top lighters sold in most convenience stores. That little silver arm lift was a work of art, a memento of a time in history when quality and cost were not mutually exclusive concepts.
From this point forward, I began actively seeking lighters and quickly learned there were two basic categories - pocket lighters and table lighters. And there’s a staggering variety among these categories. Pocket lighters tend to be small and easily portable with an endless array of different shapes, sizes, finished, and mechanics. In many regards, table lighter designs are more unrestrained. Not confined by practicality or portability, table lighters vary more dramatically in size and shape and décor – ranging from elegant art deco designs cast from precious metals to light-hearted, figural themes like unicorns and beer cans. I think it’s fair to say my collection aggressively reflects this expansive variety. It is on display here, there and everywhere around the house: on the mantles, on a myriad of wall-mounted curio shelves, on end tables, and in a few display cabinets.
I also really enjoy photography and my passions have intertwined in recent years. To me vintage lighters are more substantive than merely a means to light a pipe or cigarette. As tobacco smoking became a cornerstone of society in the early 1900s, the evolution of cigarette lighters is interwoven with a fascinating timeline that melds world history, fashion trends, and mechanical innovations spanning most of the twentieth century. In this sense, I consider myself as much an archivist as a collector. A few years ago, I decided to start photographing the lighters that pass through my hands – both pieces from my personal collection and lighters I’ve restored for my Etsy shop. These photos are currently archived on my Flickr page and I post new additions regularly.
Images © Eldon Baldwin and used with kind permission.