ENGLAND, circa 1790
Signed: ‘Williams, London’.
With an oval frizzen pan, the matchbox with sliding catch. The brass engraved with foliate sprays, trophies, and ‘WILLIAMS’ to one side, and ‘LONDON’ to the other. On a pierced and engraved stand.
Developed during the seventeenth Century, the tinder pistol or ‘strike-a-light’ was so called as the appearance and mechanism is similar to a flint-lock pistol. The hammer holds a flint which, when the hammer strikes against the steel, forces the steel lid of the small pan open and produces a spark, igniting the tinder which is placed in the pan underneath. When the tinder was glowing, small slivers of wood dipped in sulphur were lit from it – forerunners of matches. The candle, which was placed in the candle-holder when lit, was kept in the ‘barrel’ when not in use. Tinder pistols or ‘strike-a-lights’ were made both for table and pocket use, and this example is for table use, with short feet attached to the underside.
An almost identical example is illustrated in John Caspall’s ‘Fire and Light in the Home pre-1820’ (Antique Collector’s Club, 2000), p. 34, Figure 49 (see image below). Whilst both have the same splits to the butt, the example which Caspall illustrates is made of yew wood and has a folding stand.
For more information about tinder pistols or ‘strike-a-lights’ see John Caspall’s ‘Fire and Light in the Home pre-1820’ (Antique Collector’s Club, 2000), pp.30-35 and Rupert Gentle and Rachael Feild, ‘English Domestic Brass: 1680-1810 and the History of its Origins’ (Paul Elek, London, 1975), p.183.