With the creation of shows such as American Pickers, Pawn Stars, and American Restoration, I find myself sucking up every bit of memory my DVR supplies me. I’ve grown up in a family that always embraced the past, whether that be talking about the past, looking at old photos or using the hand made tools my grandfather left behind. I was always a kid that wanted to experience life back in the old days when my parents were kids, times as Rick Dale (American Restoration) says “when things were built by hand, and people took pride in what they built”.
It should be of no surprise that when I stumbled upon what looks to be a military artifact, I was blown away. Digging through a draw looking for something led me to a small white box filled with little parts for a sewing kit. Though in the mix of parts I found what at first I thought were pieces to a sewing kit, so I just closed the box back up and forgot about it for the next 3 months. During the next 3 months I began getting into these TV shows and even began searching on Ebay just to take a look at what antiques were for sale, because I realized getting something that reminded my father of the early days would be a perfect gift for him for the holidays, though also knowing antique shopping online isn’t the safest route.
I began coming across some very interesting items on Ebay, stuff called trench art dating back to the World War era. After looking at a few items, I decided to dig that white box back up and look closer at the two pieces of what I thought were parts to a sewing machine. After finding these 2 items again and this time closely inspecting them, I realized what I had actually found were 2 lighters, one dated 1912 and the other 1917. I was baffled to have found these, because for one my grandfather was not a smoker, and two one of them was actually a bullet that was hollowed out.
Having now know what they were I started to research for the stories behind these items. My father had no answer for me and was just as baffled as to why these items would have been laying around in storage. Looking at what is called Trench Art online, I thought these lighters could possibly be just that. So after all of this you may be waiting for the whole answer to what I have found, but unfortunately the search for the answer goes on, but figured someone out there can help.
I’m on a mission to learn about the history of these items and find out why my grandfather may have had them laying around. I will definitely be sharing more on this and hope to have the full story in the end.
************ UPDATE *************
I have recently emailed two NY State Historians and got a reply back from Thomas Duclos Assoc. Curator of the N.Y. State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs N.Y. Below is the email I received from Mr. Duclos.
What you have researched so far seems correct. WWI era trench lighters.
Easy to use, very little or no flame. Commercial items, most likely post war.
The lighters were produced after the war for both nostalgia reasons,( the
Veterans ) and for outdoor use.
The lighters have been reproduced over the years and as time goes by, the
repros have developed a patina of their own. If your lighters have been
passed down to you by your grandfather, you are lucky indeed.
Tom Duclos, Assoc. Curator
N.Y. State Military Museum
Special Thanks to Thomas Duclos and the N.Y. State Military Museum.
Pretty awesome to now have the history of these lighters that were passed down from my grandfather, and forever will be in my possession. -Steve