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Matches Match

Spring, 1999

FOLLOWING the article in Issue 8 of Sphæra that reported the gift to the Museum of a set of Russian matchboxes bearing images of instruments, John Millburn has pointed out another connection between the superficially unrelated topics of matches and instrumentation. He also notes the particularly fortuitous placing of the article next to one discussing the instrument-maker Jesse Ramsden.

Millburn reports that The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser for the 18th April 1783 carried an advertisement for ‘Phosphorick Matches’. These matches were described as ‘universally approved by the Nobility, Gentry, and the curious in general’. By breaking off the points, and exposing them to the air, apparently, they would ‘immediately light of themselves, without the assistance of any apparatus whatever’ and then burn for eight or ten minutes. They were manufactured in France, supplied in tin boxes, and ‘by appointment sold by Mr. Ramsden, Optician, in Piccadilly’, three dozen matches costing half a guinea.

A rival product was also advertised on the same page of the Advertiser: ‘philosophical tapers’, which were being sold by a chemist on Ludgate Hill. Although of English manufacture, these were more expensive, at five shillings per dozen.