Chicago Antiques Guide

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Devil Match Holder - Polychrome Cast Iron

Posted Tuesday, February 21 by Brian

Devil Match Holder.jpg I bought this at an estate sale last summer for $40. Since then some of my friends have said that it is a repro, because it is in such good condition. What do you think? Did I over pay? Has it been repainted? Thanks, even if I don't like the answer...Todd

Your match holder, sometimes incorrectly called a match safe, was made to hang on the wall next to pot belly or cook stove. Most stoves, even into the 1940's did not have pilot lights. You turned on the gas (on gas models) and held the match near the burner to light it. On wood burning stoves, the match was used to light the kindling. So having a handy supply of matches nearby was essential.

Your friends are correct to be skeptical on this particular match holder, because it has been widely reproduced, according to one of the Schiffer books on the subject. However, I'm not so sure that this one is a repro. I say that for 2 reasons. First, I doubt that the companies making the generally cheap reproductions would spend the money to paint this polychrome finish. I have seen this match holder in all black, black with a red face, polychrome (multi-colored), and a simulated bronze finish. Some of these could have been repros or repainted.

It is an error however to assume that an item cannot be old if it shows no wear. I have even heard "experts" on the Antiques Roadshow make this erroneous assumption. Years ago I bought a Victorian Pattern Glass table set (Sugar, Creamer, Butter Dish and Spooner) with perfect platinum trim and no wear on the bottom. I assumed it was a repro, and sold the set for about $45. I found out later from 2 dealers who specialized in glass, that the pattern had never been reproduced. Although the set was over 80 years old it was perfect with NO wear. It was likely put in a cabinet and never used. Maybe it was a gift they didn't like. Who knows?

This devil's head match holder could have been made in different finishes by the original manufacturer, or it is also possible that this piece was copied by other manufacturers, even while still being produced.

It is impossible to be certain from a photo, but I suspect yours is original and would probably sell in a shop for about $125.

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