Got A Light?

Robbie Mc Ewen of Australia reacts as he crosses the finish line in Canterbury to win the first stage of the 94th Tour de France cycling race between London and Canterbury, in England, Sunday, July 8, 2007. (AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski)
AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski
"Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette" went the refrain of a popular song in the '50s. With the gradual decrease in the acceptance of smoking, attention has turned to the collectibles of smoking: cigarette packs, cigarette cards, dispensers, ashtrays and dozens of other items related to cigars and cigarettes are growing in popularity. None is hotter than the various instruments used to light those cigarettes and cigars: the lighter. Collectibles expert Tony Hyman shows some examples on The Saturday Early Show.

Find out about other collectibles described by The Saturday Early Show's Tony Hyman in the Collectibles Archive or visit Tony Hyman's Web site.

If you think you have a collectible worth a lot of cash, send an email to with "What's It Worth?" in the subject line. Or write to "What's It Worth?" The Saturday Early Show, 514 West 57th St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10019.

One of the earliest "lighters" (1600s to mid-1800s) was a pair of tongs that were used to lift coals from the fire to light tobacco. By the mid-1800s, there were utensils like a silver repousse whale-oil table lighter.

Actually, portable fire was available as early as 1530 with phosphorus-tipped splints but matches come into their own in the 1800s. The problem was: The matches caught fire when they were still in a person's pocket.

In 1903, a German named Carl Auer invented a flint made of cerium and iron that shot off sparks when struck by a hardened steel wheel, followed by a worldwide explosion of lighters. In 1913, inventor Louis Aronson began marketing a metal match that you could carry in your pocket.

But the Ronson is considered to be the Cadillac of American-made lighters.

For instance, there is the 1934 Ronson Strike Lighter Houn' Dog. The metal wand on the top is removed from the inner well, which holds lighter fluid. The tip of the wand has a hardened metal rod surrounded by a wick. A strip of flint is imbedded in the dog's nose. The wand is scratched down the flint and the sparks ignite the wick. Voila! A metal match! All of Ronson's first lighters, going back to 1913, were strike lighters. Value: $125.

1939 Ronson Lady-Pact

A 1939 Ronson Lady-Pact:This combination lighter and vanity includes a powder compartment, puff and mirror. It is highly prized by collectors because of the beautiful floral designs and colorful enamels that were used. Most were gold-plated. Value: $300-600.

1929 Ronson Superba

A 1929 Ronson Superba: An elegant tablelighter in bright chromium plate. Teacup handle and hexagonal base make this rare old Ronson a very desirable lighter for the serious Ronson collector. Value $400-800.

1937 Ronson Hearts

Two 1937 Ronson Hearts: These are among the most sought-after pocket lighters the company has made. Shown here are two slightly different models. The one with the thin outer rim (at right) is plated with a gold-looking alloy that Ronson named Dureum. Nearly all models were enameled in white, black, or tortoise. All came with what they called a "monogram shield" - a place for the owner's name or initials. Value: $600-900.

1936 Ronson Vee

A 1936 Ronson Vee: This one definitely was made for a woman's purse. The "V" came with a silk tassel attached to the top (but many are missing by now). All carried very Art Deco designs with monogram shields and brilliant enamel colors. It is one of the smallest lighters made by Ronson. Value: $550-850.

1931 Ronson Date-A-Lite

A 1931 Ronson Date-A-Lite: This is the only calendar-lighter made by Ronson. The bottom ring rotates o align the day of the week, which matches the dates for that month. It's extremely rare. Chromium plate with blue enamel in each date panel. Three years ago, a dealer at an antique show sold one of these for $15. Current value: $800-1,200.

1929 Ronson Princess

A 1929 Ronson Princess: This pocket model represents Louis V. Aronson's revolutionary patent which created the world's first "one-motion: press it's lit - release it's out" lighter. The Princess model was made until 1952, becoming the model that was made the longest by Ronson. This model was produced in at least 78 different versions, including 14K gold, gold plate, sterling silver, dozens of beautiful enamels and exotic leather coverings, plus very Art Deco styles using the engine-turning process. Values range from $20 to $1,500.

The most important consideration in buying a vintage lighter is condition. The values presented here are for lighters that are in mint or excellent condition.

Lighters and information courtesy of Urban K. Cummings, author of two books on Ronson lighters. If you've got a question about a lighter or wish to buy his book, "Ronson The World's Greatest Lighter," here is the information: Available from Urban K. Cummings Lighter Books, P.O. Box 1482, Palo Alto, CA 94302. Send $24.95 plus either $2 for book rate (can be slow delivery) or $4 for priority mail. California residents add $1.75 tax.

You may write to the author at the above address or fax your message to (650) 327-7182. His email address is

Urban says he is a collector first and author second -- always ready to talk lighters with collectors, buyers and sellers. "It's a fantastic hobby," says he.

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