An interview with a collector: Eldon Baldwin


I am happy to start a new series of posts in form of interviews with lighter collectors around the world. I am starting with Eldon Baldwin a US citizen who not only has a stunning collection of lighters but also the expertise in making wonderful pictures of his finds. Enjoy!



Your lighter collection owing to your excellent photographs is quite famous among the world. What is the story behind it? 

For me, it is a melding of two passions. 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 about the size of a half dollar.  Up to that point, I'd only been exposed to Bics and Zippos and the idea that a cigarette lighter could be anything beyond a utilitarian means of lighting a smoke was a revelation.  I fell in love with the uniqueness of the lift arm design. Its craftsmanship and durability was in stark contrast to the disposable and generic flip-top lighters sold in most convenience stores. That little silver lift arm was a work of art to me, a memento of a time in history when quality, elegant design, and affordable cost were not mutually exclusive concepts.  It set me on a path of seeking lighters everywhere: at local flea markets, antique shops, thrift stores, et al. This before was the internet and I didn't know books about vintage lighters even existed.  So for me, every lighter was a new discovery.

Coming to the hobby as a young smoker, of course I wanted to use my new acquisitions and I've been learning to fix lighters as long as I've been collecting them.  At the same time, my interest in art was just beginning and I was experimenting with mixed media painting and sculpture.  I learned the basics of B&W photography a few years later in college. In retrospect, I realize these parallel interests have followed me into adulthood and converged.

***

Your collection is for sure very diverse. Can you give us an estimated number of lighters you possess? Is it expanding so dynamically as in previous years? And what is your major source of lighters?

Really I can only guess.  I'd estimate my personal collection is somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 pieces.  The number of lighters I possess is a lot higher, maybe 50,000 if you were to count every single broken piezo and Ronson/Zippo clone.  I'd like to think I've grown a little more discerning with age, but I'm still a very active collector and love the "hunt" for new finds.  Of course, the internet is where I buy the most these days.  As the depth of my collection grows, it is getting a lot harder to find lighters I don't already have at flea markets around Baltimore.

***

When you’re looking for lighters, do you look for specific models? And what’s been your most exciting lighter finds?

I'm a very undisciplined collector, which partially explains why my collection is so extensive.  I buy poor-condition and/or incomplete pieces for research purposes and possible restoration.   I'll buy a cheesy inexpensive novelty lighter if it makes me smile.  I have a few pieces I've bought because they were so ugly, I had to have them!  On the other hand, I also have some incredibly rare pieces as well.  This sterling silver Hahway table lighter, cigar-cutter and ashtray combo is a current apple of my eye.


***

Have you ever thought about establishing a private museum on lighters? Your photographs could easily be used for an on-line museum I assume.
 
Absolutely!  I've been working on just such a website project for the last few years. Unfortunately, my aspirations for the site exceed my limited technical capabilities, so progress on the site development has been slow. I think I've finally found a reliable programmer to create the data management system for the site and we are slowly making headway. I hope the site will be ready to launch this fall.

***

What is your collection for you personally? What is your dream connected with it?

Lighter collecting began as a hobby and evolved into something Broader that encompasses many of my interests:  research, writing, restoration, photography and other forms of creative expression.  Accurately knowing when a lighter was produced, who designed it, what made it unique, where and how it was manufactured are all details I find fascinating.  I try to keep my collection organized so it is useful for reference, that's a fun challenge unto itself. I suppose my dream would be for my collection to stay intact beyond my lifetime and become part of a permanent exhibit of vintage cigarette lighters at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. If you're gonna dream, why not dream big?

***

It might be a difficult question but what is your favorite category of lighters? Could you also name your five favorite lighters in your collection?

Lift arms and variations of the Marcel Quercia Briquet de Table Perfectionné design are probably my favorite lighter styles.  These were two of the first 'unusual designs' I discovered as a kid at the flea markets  and they're still the styles I seek most passionately. I have an ever-growing herd of animal lighters too, especially figural table lighters.

Picking favorites is a lot tougher.  I really don't have a true "Top 5"; maybe a "Top 50" wouldn't be so hard to pick.  To make this easier for me, here are five of my favorite American table lighters in no particular order: Marathon Bridge and Rexlite lift arms, the Brown & Bigelow Pull-Chain, Guinn cigar lighters, and the Capitol.

***

Can you give novice lighter collectors any hints regarding collecting lighters and photographing them?

The best collecting tip I can offer has been shared by many experienced collectors before: Learn about what you love to collect.  The more you know about a lighter, the more you can appreciate its history, provenance and value.  At least for me, the joy of lighter collecting it two-fold:  the excitement of the hunt, then the quest to learn about the new find.

A couple of photography tips for lighters come to mind.  Avoid using a flash.  A tripod makes it a lot easier to compose shots and fine tune the lighter placement to reduce distracting reflections.  Natural sunlight is easiest to work with, especially with lower quality cameras and personal devices.  If you are serious about taking nice quality photos, investing in an inexpensive light box will make photographing chrome lighters so much easier.

Thank you Eldon for your time. It was a pleasure to talk with you! I hope we may soon see your impressive collection of lighters at the Smithsonian in Washington DC.

***







More pictures and information about Eldon Baldwin can be found on his webpage!

eBay: Thorens Dog Desk Lighter, 1929


A beautiful Thorens Table/Desk Lighter was recently sold on eBay by a modest $350. The auction received 27 bids from 18 bidders. The wick desk lighter is a rare piece coming from the late 1920s. The lighter insert is a Thorens 'single claw' type that was manufactured between 1918 and 1935 in Switzerland. The gold-plated base of the lighter is very unusual - a Scottie dog is leaning against a column. Perfect design! 



And here some additional photos from the seller.



Advert: Lancel Briquets, 1928


This full-page black&white Lancel advertisement was published in October 1928 in a French magazine called L'Illustration. A nice example of Art Deco graphic design.


Wills's Cigarette Cards: Automatic Cigarette Lighter and Safety Matches, 1926


These two British cigarette trade cards were issued by W.D. & H.O. Wills (tobacco manufacturer) in 1926. They are part of the 50 Wills's Cigarettes 3rd series cards called “Do You Know”. In the UK, Wills in 1887 were one of the first companies to include advertising cards with their cigarettes.

The first card (no. 28) shows the anatomy of an "automatic lighter" (actually it is a semi-automatic lighter). 


On the back of the this card Wills explains how this lighter work:
When the spring knob is pressed the lid flies open, and the steel wheel A rotates. The “flint” is held against the wheel by a spring (not shown in the diagram), and the friction of the milled edge of the steel wheel against the “flint” sends a spark to the wick C and ignites it. The wick is fed from the small reservoir D, which is packed with cotton wool and supplied with petrol.


Other Wills's Cigarette Card linked to fire making is the card no. 40 that explains why is the safety-match safe.


The explanation is as follows: 
Old-fashioned phosphorus matches had many disadvantages. The ordinary white or yellow phosphorus used in them is a deadly poison responsible for many accidental deaths, while the workers who made the matches often suffered from phosphorus poisoning. A modified form of phosphorus know as red phosphorus was first used for making matches in Sweden about 1850. This is perfectly harmless substance, and the manufacture of Safety-Matches is therefore not dangerous. Modern matches are safe in another sense: the phosphorus required for lightning is on the box and not in the match-heads, which are therefore much less liable to catch fire accidentally.

LektroLite Flameless Lighters Postcard, 1930/1940s


This humorous "LektroLite Flameless Lighters" postcard was in circulation in the late 1930s/ early 1940s mainly in the United States. What a good way to promote products!


Advert: Evans Promotional Leaflet, 1949


This six-page promotional leaflet was found in a box from a table lighter made by Evans Case Company in the late 1940s. It features "smart new designs" of table lighters, Liter-Case combinations and pocket lighters.



FAQ: Evans How to Fill and Replace Flint, ca 1945


This small instruction leaflet was added to all new Evans lighters in the mid 1940s.



Ronson Lighters Catalog, England 1938/1939


After five hours of work I have just finished to digitize the Ronson Catalog from the 1938. I must admit that it looks great. It covers the whole range of Ronson cigarette table/desk, combo and pocket lighters made that day. Approximately 150 lighters are described and illustrated in this 20-page catalog. A must have for every lighter collector!

Please make a donation of $5 and you get this and couple of other publications on lighters (for instance: Lighter Repair Manual) in PDF delivered to you by email! Thank you!



Mail Order Catalog, House of Gellman Brothers, 1938


Fine examples of cigarette table/desk lighters from the Gellman Bros. catalog from 1938. Featured are several "new modernistic designed automatic lighters" mainly chrome and nickel plated.

16th International Lighter Convention in Krefeld, Germany


On the 2nd of May (Saturday), 2015 the 16th International Lighter Convention in Krefeld, Germany will take place. Table holders can setup from 9:00 AM to 10:00 AM. More info can be obtained from Grahame Martin: grahame.martin@t-online.de

Advert: Ronson "Le Dix" Table Lighter, 1977


This Ronson advertisement was published in a French magazine on 1977. It depicts the Ronson Varaflame "Le Dix" butane table lighter with a heavy pewter base and two gas pocket lighters; the Ronson "Electric 7" and "Veratronic". The "Le Dix" table lighter was marketed in the USA as the "Varaflame Tankard".

Ritepoint Roman Classic Liter, Vu-Lighter, 1949


The "Roman Classic Liter" Table/Desk Lighter was manufactured by Ritepoint Co. in St. Louis, USA between 1949 and 1954. Sylvester G. Lipic was the inventor of this futuristic looking lighter which was available in four colors. It was the first table lighter with a transparent fuel reservoir (today known as the see through "vu-lighter") which was a lucrative invention as it was widely used in the advertising sector. 

The Ritepoint Liter was advertised as the lighter that "signals the eye — before it's dry". The body was made of a transparent plastic whereas the top and the bottom were made of brass and chrome-plated. The bottom of the lighter is padded with black felt and marked:

RITEPOINT LITER
PAT'S PEND'G
(C) RITEPOINT CO.
ST. LOUIS, MO. U.S.A.
Sylvester G. Lipic Pres.


Type: petrol (wick) lighter

Scarcity: uncommon

Value for very good–mint condition: $30.00–40.00 (€25–30)

Weight: 148 grams (5.2 oz)


Dimensions:
  • height: 11 cm (4.3")
  • diameter: 4.9 cm (1.9")

Advert: Ronson Kitchenette, Town & Country Set, 1959


This Ronson magazine advertisement was published in LIFE Magazine in 1959. Presented are several models of Ronson pocket:
  • Windlite – exclusive slotted "windshield" lifetime wick... removable base for simpler fueling; satin finish (model no. 34-51341-237) 
  • Sport – handsomely styled, ruggedly built, remarkably low priced; Tortoise Enamel (34-52679-417) Brigh Woven Mesh (model no. 34-51291-450) 
  • Venus – Feminine-styled ladies' purse lighter. Slender, streamlined, sophisticated 
  • Adonis – modern, sweeping lines. Slim as fine watch. Satin finish, engraved design (model no. 34-52752-597) and table/desk lighters:
    • Fantasy – elegant satin-white China, touched with gold (model no. 34-51085-1110)
    • Regal – swirl design, in gleaming copper (model no. 34-52828-990)
    • Queen Anne – Lustrous Silver Plate (model no. 34-52802-870)
    • Kitchenette – fine China, colorful Kitchen motif (model no. 34-52810-897)
    • Nordic Set – genuine black and gold marble Table Lighter and matching Cigarette Urn (model no. 34-52877-1110)
    • Town and Country Set –  Modern Glazed Ceramic Lighter and Matching Ash tray (model no. 34-52851-1290)

    Ronson Nordic Table Lighter, 1955


    The Ronson Nordic was first manufactured in 1955 in Newark, N.J. in the United States. The production went on till 1958. The body of the lighter was made of many different materials like wood (dark and light), marble and clear glass (see photo). The Nordic table lighter made of gold & black (portoro) marble was available only as a set with a matching cigarette holder (urn). In all cases the base was chrome-plated and had a leaf and scroll pattern.


    The lighter had a smaller version of the Ronson Essex fitment. That is why the engineers added the lever action to make the lighter more easy to operate. The lighter insert is chrome-plated and marked on the bottom:

    RONSON (R)
    NEWARK, N.J. U.S.A.
    U.S. PATENTS
    2,481,195 & 2,715,320

    Type: petrol (wick) lighter

    Writing on the bottom on the foil label:

    (R)
    RONSON NORDIC
    Newark, N.J.
    U.S.A.


    Scarcity: uncommon

    Value for good–mint condition: 202 zł–90.00 (208 zł–75)

    Weight: 492 grams (1 3/8 oz)
    Dimensions:
    • height: 8.5 cm (3.5")
    • diameter: 8.5 cm (3.5")

    Early American Trio Lighter Set, 1946


    This lighter set called "Early American Trio by Davis" was made in the late 1940s in the United States. It contains two cast iron ashtrays (wheelbarrow ash tray & coal scuttle ash tray) and a plastic table lighter (lantern cigarette lighter). All parts have a painted flower design on a rich black background.


    The lighter is stamped on the bottom:

    MADE IN U.S.A
    13

    The lighter insert is a simple wick and wheel type lighter made of brass. It is not marked.


    Type: petrol (wick) lighter

    Scarcity: uncommonrare

    Value for very good–mint condition (set): 135 zł–60.00 (approx 125 zł–45.00)

    Weight:
    • lighter 70 g (2 3/8 oz)
    • set 455 g (1 lb)
    Dimensions of the lighter:
    • height (with handle): 13.0 cm (5.1")
    • diameter: 5.5 cm (2.2")

    Patent: Ronson Juno Table Lighter, 1949


    The "Juno" table lighter model was first manufactured by Ronson  in 1950 in Newark, New Jersey, USA although the design of the lighter (F. Kaupmann) was patented earlier by the United States Patent Office on 23th August 1949 (patent no. 154,929).

    Ronson Scandia Table Lighter, 1955


    The Scandia Table Lighter was first manufactured by Rosenthal and Ronson in 1955 in Newark, N.J. U.S.A. The base of the lighter is made of white China porcelain (Rosenthal) and dark rosewood. It was marketed in the United States separate and in a set with a matching cigarette holder.
     
     
    Golden foil label on the bottom of base is marked:

    SCANDIA

    FASHIONED BY RONSON

    CHINA BY
    ROSENTHAL

    The small chromium plate lighter "Essex" insert is marked:


    RONSON (R)
    NEWARK, N.J. U.S.A.

    U.S. PATENTS
    2,481,195 & 2,715,329

    Type: wick (petrol) lighter

    Scarcity: rare

    Value for very good–mint condition: $50.00–75.00 (approx €40.00–60.00)

    Weight: 135 grams (4 5/8 oz)

    Dimensions:
    • height: 8.6 cm (3.4")
    • diameter: 5.8 cm (2.3")

    Silver Plated Lift-Arm Table Lighter, 1928


    This lift-arm desk/table lighter was sold by the "World's Largest Novelty House" N. Shure Co., Chicago between 1928 and 1932. The manufacturer is unknown. It was available in nickel and silver plate. It was a low budget table lighter as the retail price per dozen was only 30 zł.


    The nickel-plated lighter insert is removable and attached to the base with two screws. There are no markings on the base of the lighter that could identify the maker. The lighter base is heavy and has a hammered design with a floral and beaded accents.
     

    Type: petrol (wick) lighter

    Scarcity: rare

    Value for very good–mint condition: $35.00–50.00 (€25–35)

    Weight: 210 grams (7 3/8 oz)


    Dimensions:
    • height: 13.5 cm (5.3")
    • width: 5.2 cm (2")
    • depth: 4.4 cm (1.7")

    Advert: Spark Lite Pocket & Desk Lighters, 1955


    These two full-page color advertisements were published in an unknown American magazine in 1955. Several models of the Spark-Lite lighters are presented: Commodore and President pocket lighters and Director, Diplomat, Continental and Onyx table/desk butane gas lighters. 

    Negbaur 75 Cannon Table Lighter Instruction, 1940


    The U.S. 75 mm Cannon Lighter was manufactured by Negbaur between 1940 and 1949 in Allbright, New York in the United States. Below the instruction leaflet for it.