Reusable Matchstick Question

This question has to do with a movie, but it’s not really a movie question. Hopefully someone here will know the answer. It’s been bugging me for a while.

I was watching The Maltese Falcon (1941) for the umpteenth time today and noticed something I have always wondered about, but never asked anyone about. The story seems contemporaneous to when the movie was made, so I assume it reflects things as they were in the early 1940’s. The cars look like they are from the late 1930’s and early 40’s.

Since just about everyone smoked in those days there are lots of places where cigarettes are being lit. Sometimes they use what appears to be a standard ‘strike anywhere’ match, but sometimes they use a special black box that looks to me like a reusable match.

If you watch the movie you will notice a smallish black object sitting on a table. One of the actors will walk up to it and pull out what appears to be a standard wooden match. The match will light, they light their cigarette and blow out the match and put it back in the object they pulled it out from. I first thought is was just a fancy holder for normal wood matches, but it looks like they are pulling the same match out of the same device over and over, and relighting the same match.

Am I seeing something that isn’t there, or is there a device that was essentially a reusable match?

No such device; maybe they’re just putting the dead match back in the box, for lack of anywhere else to put it. Is there an ashtray in the scene, or are they just flicking their cigarette ash onto the floor?

(“It’s good for the carpet.”)

Umm, reusable match!

Bit of wicking on the “match”, the thingy it goes in has some fibrous material the keeps the flammable fluid, often naphtha like a Zippo, from spilling out, and a bit of “flint” most likely mischmetal for period “matches”.

CMC fnord!

I myself asked this question several years ago, and I got this answer.

Ronson Touch-Tip Lighter

It is a table lighter with a wand fueled by lighter fluid, and ignited by friction rather like a match.

This clip show it clearly. If you google it, you will see a variety of different models and styles.

Better video.

Yes, that is a much better indication of how it works.

I found my old thread, for what it’s worth, here.


And hence, it’s a better fit for GQ than for CS. Moving.

That’s it. Very cool device. Thanks everyone for the info and videos. I grew up in the 1960’s and both of my parents smoked and I don’t remember seeing them use such a device or seeing one used on TV. They must have either gone out of style or were simply replaced by lighters like the ones that are still being used today.

WW2, men in particular, we went from table-top cigarette boxes and elaborate table lighters to a pack o’ smokes and a Zippo (or Ronson :dubious:) in your pocket. The necessity and convenience of being self contained in combat replaced the more elegant rituals of pre-war smoking.

CMC fnord!

This exaggerates actual smoking prevalence.

It’s difficult to find accurate figures for just how common smoking was in, say, 1941, but the limited data suggests anywhere between one-half and two-thirds of men smoked, and approximately one-fifth of women. High rates, yes, but not “just about everyone”.

One source:

Fair enough. I was thinking about the films I have seen from that era and many of the actors smoked, which differs greatly from today’s films. Of course not everyone smoked. That’s an exaggeration, but it sure seemed like it from watching old movies. :smack: