Capitol Lighter, Steele & Johnson of Waterbury, 1927

The Capitol Lighter was manufactured between 1927 and 1931 by Steele and Johnson in Waterbury (Connecticut) in the United States of America. The company was founded in Waterbury in 1851 and manufactured brass and other metal goods. The firm opened a New York shop in 1865 and ceased operation in 1933.

This unusual brass/bronze table lighter features a mechanical snap up levered mechanism. The mechanism as well the design of the lighter were invented and patented on the 10th of March 1925 (patent no. AT99438) by Josef Kluss of Vienna in Austria. The fact that Steele & Johnson Mfg. Co. used the patent filled by George S. Eldred on 17th September 1912 in the USA (patent no. US1038735) is unfounded as it features a absolutely different mechanism (semi-automatic).

This automatic petrol lighter is one of the most desired lighters by collectors because of the fairly complicated and interesting mechanism. The Capitol Lighter was manufactured in many different configurations (lighter with ashtray – both table and floor, lighter with a tray and cigarette holder etc.). Also the choice of finishes was quite impressive: plain brass, bronze, nickel plate and painted in three basic colors: red, green and yellow which was the most common one).

There are two main version of the Capitol Lighter. The earlier one manufactured between 1927–1928 is a direct copy of the Josef Kluss design in which the thumb lever of the lighter is straight and marked PATENT APL FOR. The second version (see pictures) has a curved thumb lever and was marked PATENTED SEPT. 17, '12. For filling the lighter mechanism is removed from the top of the bottle. On the earlier version of the Capitol lighter a circle label on the bottom says:

Matchless Utilities Co.
690 8. Ave. New York
Classic Gas & Cigar Lighters
Telephone Lackwanna 8855

and the younger version:

Steele & Johnson Mfg. Co. Waterbury Conn.
New York Office 290 Madison Ave.

The lighter was also manufactured for Gerlach Barklow Co. which was one of the largest calendar and advertising companies in America. It was marked "G.B. Co. Joliet ILL." rather then "Capitol Lighter".

Type: petrol (wick) lighter

Scarcity: uncommon to very rare (depends on version)

Value for good–mint condition: $100.00–400.00 (approx €75.00–300.00)

Weight of the lighter alone: 90 grams (0.2 pound)

  • height: 11.3 cm (4.4")
  • width: 7.3 cm (2.9")
  • depth: 2.8 cm (1.1")


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