When John and Patricia McKenzie began collecting vesta cases in the 1960s, they could not have anticipated that they would eventually acquire over 2500 of the desirable little match holders.
After half a century of keen buying, the first half of the collection went under the hammer at Lawrences in Crewkerne recently and met with keen enthusiasm from a new generation of devotees.
There were 1300 individual cases on offer in an enormous variety of types and styles.
“There were gold vestas, enamelled silver vestas, figurals, the so-called ‘go-to-beds’, book match holders, matchbox holders, combination vestas, trick-opening vestas, Japanese & American vestas, glass, porcelain, bronze, brass, tin, celluloid wrap-arounds and French `naughty nineties` vestas – in fact just about every sort you can think of,” enthuses Alex Butcher, Lawrences’ specialist who had catalogued each and every one.
“The inventiveness of the designers was remarkable. There were vesta cases in the shape of parasols, mussel shells, poodles, post boxes, tables, trousers, frogs, gloves, Prime Ministers, pigs, cricket bats and bullets.”
Carefully grouped into nearly 500 lots in order to maximise their appeal, the collection was nearly a sell out and top prices were paid for a silver case set with a small clock (£870, image 213); an enamelled silver example with a cricket scene (£1150, image 299); a 9-carat gold case for James Forman `Tod` Sloan, a leading jockey (£820, image 397); a silver case with an enamelled yacht decoration on the cover (£1220, image 478); and a silver case with a guardsman in a sentry box (£2560, image 492).
An electroplated example in the form of an old crumpled boot showed how imaginative a vesta case could be and this marched its way to £120 (image 38), whilst a rare vesta in the form of a stack of sixpences well exceeded its face value to take just over £600 (image 391).