Antique table cigar lighters / cigar lamps - history and characteristics

According to Oxford Dictionary a lighter ‘is a device that produces a flame for lighting cigarettes, etc.’ This definition would not fit to the old table cigar lighters as they had to be lit by other means although their purpose was to lite cigars, cigarettes and sometimes pipes. They were filled with a wick and kerosene but had no ignition mechanism.

Cigar lighters (also called cigar lamps) were manufactured in various shapes although the most popular forms are of a Roman oil lamp and Aladdin's Lamp with snake handle (see pictures). There was also a broad range of novelty shapes like hunting horn, pyramid, spherical bomb or flaming grenade. Traditional shapes include urn or vase - some of them were sold with matching ashtrays that could be put under the cigar lighter to save space on the table. Lighters with a lid, instead of a simple wand, are chained to the lighter base in order to avoid the lid to be lost.

Popular are oriental forms like dragons often combined with horn (mainly buck, antelope and deer antler) handles and gyroscopic mount so that the flame is always pointing up. More sophisticated figural lighters (for instance laying moon, wild animals, grotesque or exotic figures, castles, ships etc.) are sought after by collectors and these with a lot of fine detail command very high prices counted in thousands of EUR. Table cigar lighters collectors pay attention not only to the style, craftsmanship but also to the maker of the lighter. They were made by top class silversmiths including Georg Jensen (Denmark), Tiffany & Co (USA) and a whole British makers.  

Most of the cigar lighters were meant to carry and pass around the table so they have convenient handles, but others were more stationary and have at least one wick-holder (called wand) to transfer the flame to one's cigar (or pipe), this often with spiral-fluted handle or one decorated as a flame or a simple sphere. Smoking sets consisted of a tray, usually a cigar cutter, 4-6 ashtrays and cigar lighter with one to up to five wands.

As table cigar lamps were intended initially for the wealthiest it was a natural practice to make these lighters of solid silver (mainly sterling .925) and of the highest quality. Silver-plated cigar lighters were made for those who could not afford these made of solid silver. The base metal was often cooper or zinc alloy (pewter). Especially sought after are lighters manufactured in Arts&Crafts and Art Nouveau periods by Elkington & Company (UK), WMF (German, Austria, Poland, France), Christofle (France) or Kaiserzinn (Germany). Some were also used in restaurants or cafeterias.

Table cigar lighters were manufactured between 1840-1949 though its heyday of shapes and popularity was somewhere between 1860-1910 which corresponds with the golden age of cigars. The biggest market for silver table cigar lighters was Great Britain - in that time the richest country in the world.

A whole different range of cigar lighters were counter cigar lighters used in general stores and tobacco shops. These were always lit and were using kerosene (lamp oil) or gas (methane, butane). Later after the 1880s also wall and counter electric cigar lighters (mainly in USA) were used which were lighting up on demand. I will describe them later in a new article on