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Collectables: classic lighter brand born out of a wartime habit

PUBLISHED: 15:16 26 January 2018 | UPDATED: 15:16 26 January 2018

A BOAC souvenir Ronson lighter, which with its original box is probably worth around �50 today. Picture: Mike Crowley

A BOAC souvenir Ronson lighter, which with its original box is probably worth around �50 today. Picture: Mike Crowley

Mike Crowley

Antiques expert Mike Hicks looks at the story of a famous cigarette lighter brand.

In the Second World War smoking as a habit was rife and Ronson, as a lighter manufacturer, was born, capitalising on the demand. They made a wonderful range of streamlined lighters and all types of equipment allied to these. Ronson soon established itself firmly as a household brand.

Its founder, New Jersey-born Louis V Aronson, was a very creative person. He produced numerous products but his company, The Art Metal Works, became famous as the people who would eventually turn out to be one of the major manufacturers of lighters in the world.

He found the ideal chemical combination to ensure combustion, even in the strongest wind. So the smoker who was out-and-about - maybe hunting, shooting or fishing - was ensured of a dependable light in all weathers.

Aronson even experimented with a white phosphorus-free match. His ingenuity saw no bounds but I think, at some point, with the incredible success of the lighter, the idea of a match that would light in all weathers, was abandoned.

The market was very strong until it got to the late 1960s/early 1970s, when the firm became under increasing pressure from new competition. Sadly, due to the lack of profitability, in 1981 the company was sold yet again and was renamed Ronson Exports Limited.

Here, the company began to import lighters bearing the Ronson name but this, again, was not successful. The company was ultimately sold in 1994 to Halkin Holdings, who also were trading with the name of Ronson. They spent something like £10 million reorganising the company - but times had changed. People by now often used very cheap disposable lighters instead. Despite this, Ronson lighters are still made.

In a recent question to me, somebody asked me about a lighter that was, in fact, produced for sale, or given by the British Overseas Airways Corporation, BOAC. This caused me to look into the value of such items, and it would appear that even though they are probably never to be used again, such a lighter in its original box, in good condition can be worth in excess of £50.

Like most smoking requisites, it is the top end of the market which holds the key to value - and the lighters that were made for (or by) the Dunhill Company still reign supreme. However, I would emphasise, they do have to be in excellent condition and the gold versions are always at a premium.

So, thanks to Mr Aronson, going back many, many decades, we have seen the success of the quality lighter and its eventual demise.

Mike Hicks runs Stalham Antique Gallery at 29 High Street, Stalham (NR12 9AH). You can contact Mike on 01692 580636 or info@mikehicksantiques.co.uk.

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