Making matches, c.1900


As I struck a Swan Vesta match to light a bunch of sparklers for this year’s Guy Fawkes celebrations it occurred to me that we hardly ever use matches these days. Fewer open fires, cheap petrol lighters for lighting cigarettes (and less smoking), no paraffin stoves. Those little wooden splints were once a ubiquitous part of everyday life, and produced in huge numbers – millions per hour from one factory. Famously, the Match Girls’ Strike of 1888, ‘caused by the poor working conditions in the match factory, including fourteen-hour work days, poor pay, excessive fines and the severe health complications of working with white phosphorus, such as phossy jaw…’ [Wikipedia] invigorated the campaign against the use of white phosphorous, which was eventually made illegal. I wonder in what context these slides were most often shown?

matches1[click on picture to enlarge]

Matchmaking. Fifteen glass 3.25inch x 3.25inch photographic magic lantern slides, showing the industrial process of making matches and matchboxes. Newton & Co, Covent Garden, London. These slides were made c.1912, from photographs taken at that time or a few years earlier.




I bought these slides around 30 years ago, and I have not seen another example of any of them since. They comprise an extraordinary record of a German match-making factory around 1900, showing the various areas where different parts of the processes were carried out. The printed text commentary states that “Red phosphorous is now greatly used instead of the white kind, and is much freer from dangerous fumes.” The type of phosphorous used by this particular factory is not stated. When we examine these images the dangers of exposed machinery make us wince, but they were of course universal at this time.




This is evidently the same set that was advertised by York & Son, with a reading included in the booklet Glassware [and other titles. n.d.]. A copy of the reading has survived, and is listed on the Lucerna website, which can be accessed by members of the Magic Lantern Society (UK). Non-members can contact database editor Richard Crangle for details of how to obtain the reading.




This set comprises 15 of the original 19 slides. The fifteen slides present are:

1. Slicing into layers

2. Cutting into splints

3. Cutting up remnants into splints

4. Sorting the splints

5. Piling the splints in uniform heaps

6. Putting the splits into dipping-frames

7. Paraffining and sulphuring

10. Cutting chipwood for match-boxes

11. Making the sides of the boxes without the bottoms

13. Mechanical manufacture of the drawers or insides

14. Mechanical Manufacture of cover or envelope of drawer

15. Sanding the sides of the boxes

16. Laying the coat of antimony on the box and drying it

17. Box-drying apparatus, &c

18. Boxing the matches

Numbers and titles are written in manuscript in white ink on the black paper masks, but are in some cases illegible.

A rare set. I do not know of another. The images above this point have been cropped to show details. Uncropped pictures of each slide are shown below.

Condition: Generally very good. No cracked glasses apart from one small corner crack to one slide, outside of the image area. Browning of image edges in some cases. Some passe-partout edging paper has been replaced, some is missing.

Price: £280 plus postage.      Enquiries:

Uncropped slide images (in no special order):