Swan Vestas – part 1, 1883 to 1959

1909 Swan Vestas label, 95 x 118 mm
1909 Swan Vestas label, 95 x 118 mm

Exhibitor : James Oxley-Brennan

This Exhibit tells the story of Swan Vestas, one of the world’s most recognisable matchbox brands, in three parts :

  1. From 1883 to 1959, the early years
  2. From 1959 to 1994, when the Swan image turned right, here
  3. From 1994 to the present day, when manufacturing moved from Britain to Sweden, here

Vesta is the Roman goddess of the Hearth, and the name “Vesta” was adopted by many match manufacturers in the 19th Century, specifically for matches with short stems which were used mainly by smokers.

Swan Vestas was first trademarked by Collard & Co, Liverpool in 1883, who later became Collard & Kendall and were taken over by Diamond Match Company in 1895. Diamond then merged with Bryant & May in 1901.

Two No. 12 labels from the Glasgow factory, 1919
Two No. 12 labels from the Glasgow factory, 1919

 

My own Swan Vestas collection starts in 1909, when Bryant & May were operating factories in London and Liverpool. They opened the Maryhill factory in Glasgow in 1919. 

No. 18 size box, with two trays
No. 18 size box, with two trays

These labels were affixed on card boxes. Bryant & May made a number of standard size boxes, and favoured the Number 12 (3 ⅛ x 1 ⅞ inches), Number 15 (6 ½ x 2 ⅛ inches) and Number 18 (6 ½ x 4 inches) size boxes for Swan. The matches were made of pine and had round stems.

 

1931 and 1938 No. 15 labels
1931 and 1938 No. 15 labels

 

 

It is interesting to see how the designs changed over time, as shown on these two No. 15 labels from the Fairfield Works, Bow from July 1931 and January 1938 respectively.

1931 and 1938 No. 15 labels
1931 and 1938 No. 15 labels

 

 

 

Of course, Bryant & May were always looking for new opportunities to sell their matches, and in 1930 created a match for female smokers known as “Dainty”.

No. 12 labels from 1940, 1941, 1945 and 1954
No. 12 labels from 1940, 1941, 1945 and 1954

 

 

Raw materials became scarce during the Second World War, and in order to conserve materials all fancy brands were withdrawn. Boxes and labels were marked “Use Matches Sparingly” to persuade the public to economise in their use of matches; this was introduced in 1941 and lasted for several years.

Bryant & May had increased the prices in 1940 : standard size boxes went up from 1d to 1½d, and Swan Vestas from 1½d to 3d.

The last significant change to occur, before the Swan changed direction in 1959, was in 1954. when the timber being used was changed from pine to poplar, and the matches became square instead of round.

 

Boxes were enclosed in dozen wrappers, then in half-gross and/or gross wrappers for shipping to the wholesalers. The gallery below shows some wrappers, click on an image to enlarge it.

For the next chapter of Swan Vestas story click here

Click here to return to the Exhibition Catalogue.

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