Swan Vestas is a brand name for the most popular brand of 'strike-anywhere' matches currently available in the UK. Shorter than regular pocket matches they are particularly popular with smokers and have long used the tagline "the smoker's match" although this has been replaced by the prefix "the original" on the current packaging.
Swan Vestas matches are manufactured under the House of Swan brand, which is also responsible for making other smoking accessories such as cigarette papers, flints and filter tips. The matches are manufactured by Swedish Match in Sweden using local, sustainably grown aspen.
History of the brand
The Swan brand began in 1883 when the Collard & Kendall match company in Bootle on Merseyside near Liverpool introduced 'Swan wax matches'. These were superseded by later versions including 'Swan White Pine Vestas' from the Diamond Match Company. These were formed of a wooden splint soaked in wax. They were finally christened 'Swan Vestas' in 1906 when Diamond merged with Bryant and May and the company enthusiastically promoted the Swan brand. By the 1930s 'Swan Vestas' had become 'Britain's best selling match'. The brand is now owned by the Swedish Match company.
In popular culture
"Vestas", without the capital, appear in the Sherlock Holmes story Silver Blaze, and finding a half-burned one is one of the clues that helps solve the crime. They also appear in the story The Man with the Twisted Lip, as the professional beggar Hugh Boone pretends "a small trade in wax vestas" to avoid the police. In both of these stories, "vesta" is used as a generic term for "match". The discovery of "an odd vesta or two" made it possible for Richard Hannay to escape confinement in John Buchan's novel "The Thirty-Nine Steps." In John Le Carre's Smiley's People, a box of Swan Vestas is found in General Vladimir's pocket after his murder. That fact later reminds Smiley that Vladimir was a heavy smoker, which leads him to an important discovery. They are also mentioned in Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves on p. 466 as a personal item that Navidson decides to bring with him into the house.
Swan Vestas matches are also used as an instrument in the off-Broadway and touring productions of Stomp, with the actors alternating between shaking and striking full boxes of matches - with the striker heads removed - to create a musical number.
A Vesta is described by Hamm in his soliloquy about the last man on earth in Beckett's 'Endgame' as being used to light his pipe: "I calmly filled my pipe—the meerschaum, lit it with... let us say a vesta, drew a few puffs. Aah!"
- Leo Hickman. 'Should I ... use a match or lighter?', The Guardian, 11 July 2006
- Jones, Ben (text). "The evolution of and the influences on the graphical design of Matchboxes" (PDF).
- BBCi, Matches: a story of light and dark
- Childs, Peter E. Phosphorus: from urine to fire, Part 2. From cold fire to instant lights - the history of the match. University of Limerick, Limerick