Döbereiner lighters

Three Döbereiner lighters

Exhibitor : Tom O’Key

After 1910, technology was just becoming standardized. The inventions of the past were becoming bygones and rapidly forgotten. By 1920, established systems were mainframes of the technology that remains relevant and often commonplace in daily use, now. Perhaps it has a special appearance in form, or clever lever and spring mechanism, make it special, but, it is basically the same technology that, has been around for a century, if a sparking flint or paper bookmatch is considered technology. So, little remains with respect to early examples as most were discarded without thought or care.

It’s with great personal gratitude that I give thanks to the great collectors of the past, for saving away the knowledge they’ve gathered together, and documented, so these, otherwise, unknown, technologies could be remembered. After all, ten million Pabst Beer matchbooks were manufactured for the first order, then thirty million more, followed! Yet, only one is known to exist, today. History can be forgotten.

Instantaneous Light

Edward Bidwell, Miller Christy, Herbert Manchester, Walter Hough, Henry Balfour, Warren Watson, Encyclopaedia Roret 1836 -1903, and now, the British Museum and many others, are the historians I have studied and read, and thanks to their example, I found subject matter that has captured my full attention, “Instantaneous Light Contrivances

The Instantaneous Light category of fire making, as described by Miller Christy, and divided away by him, from other systems, is unique in having the common denominator where chemistry, or electricity is involved, somehow. From chemical concoctions with acid bottles and hydrogen gas, to leading edge innovations in producing electricity, these inventors brought their own significance where documentation and footnotes in history happened by changing or discovering science, itself!

Bicentennial poster, July 2023

Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner

Among these innovators was a German Chemist name Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner, who, in 1823, discovered that platinum metal reacted with various flammable gases.

The reaction caused one gas to ignite that was, relatively, easy to make, hydrogen! With a little engineering, a combined unit with a hydrogen gas generating apparatus and a platinum ignition system, a lighter could be created. And, indeed, they were!

Beginning almost immediately, his unpatented innovation swept across Europe and Great Britain. Later, versions were, even, made in Vermont, USA, by settlers from Austria. It goes without saying, that the fact there were tens of thousands of these lighters created, a scant few remaining examples is all that represents the technology, now.

Seven lighters

The inventory of my collection has fluctuated over time, as repetitive examples, where artistic merits, or unusual mechanical features, bring favour when trying to manage a collection of large and fragile objects.

All of my Döbereiner’s are kept in a fireproof vault.


As of now, the collection consists of about twenty examples in all states of condition or repair. Among them are versions from numerous countries and various timeframes. Early German made figural pieces to later French mechanical models, an early French clock, combined with a Döbereiner Alarm Lighter, dating to 1830, is intriguing to me. 

Click here to return to the Exhibition Catalogue.

© Copyright BML&BS 1945 - 2024

Powered by Everything WordPress theme