George Grant Blaisdell was born on June 5, 1895, in Bradford, Pa. In 1931, at the Bradford Country Club, Mr. Blaisdell met a gentleman who was using a lighter made in Austria. The lighter worked exceptionally well, especially in the wind; however, it required the use of both hands. It intrigued Mr. Blaisdell, who envisioned improving upon the design. The word “Zippo” is a spin-off of the word “zipper.”
The zipper had recently been patented in a nearby town, and Mr. Blaisdell liked the sound of the word. He established Zippo in October 1932 in Bradford and the first Zippo lighter was produced in January 1933. Mr. Blaisdell’s lighter had the lid attached to the body and required the use of only one hand to light it, making it less awkward to use and better looking.
The first Zippo lighters retailed for $1.95 each—a costly investment for most people at that time. But with Mr. Blaisdell’s guarantee and marketing strategy, “It works or we fix it for free,” folks were more willing to part with that kind of money.
The original patent was applied for on May 17, 1934, and patent number 2032695 was granted on March 3, 1936. The 2517191 patent number was issued on August 1, 1950. The Zippo lighter basically remains the same to this day, with just minor improvements.
In the mid-1930s, Kendall Refining Company placed an order for 500 Zippo lighters. These are believed to be the first company-advertised lighters produced by Zippo and are highly collectible. Decades later, companies continue to use Zippo lighters as an advertising medium.
Zippo Manufacturing Company, Canada, Ltd., was established in Ontario, Canada, in 1949 to negate import duties. The facility closed on July 31, 2002.
In 1954, construction began on new offices at 33 Barbour St. in Bradford, and an open house was held in September 1955. The headquarters remain there today.
Mr. Blaisdell passed away on October 3, 1978. He is remembered not only for inventing the Zippo lighter, a great American icon, but also for his generous and kind spirit. After his passing, his daughters, Mrs. Harriett B. Wick and Mrs. Sarah B. Dorn, inherited the business.
Robert Galey was chosen to lead the company. He retired in 1986, and the controller, Michael Schuler, was appointed president and chief executive officer. Today, Mrs. Sarah Dorn and her son, Mr. George B. Duke, own Zippo Manufacturing Company. Gregory W. Booth is president and CEO.
In 1994, Zippo Manufacturing Company began hosting a yearly “National Zippo Day” celebration. Every other year, an international swap meet is held at the same time. Eight thousand people attended the 2004 swap meet.
The Zippo/Case Visitors Center opened in July 1997. It is a 15,000-square-foot facility that includes a store, museum, and the famous Zippo Repair Clinic, where the Zippo lighter repair process can be viewed through expansive windows.
In the fall of 2002, Zippo obtained trademark registration for the “shape” of the Zippo lighter. This was a major milestone for the company. Zippo lighters are often imitated by inferior replicas, but by obtaining this right, Zippo has legally been able to curtail much counterfeiting.
Fake Zippo lighter featuring Dale Earnhardt and the Brickyard 400.
This copy of a lighter design produced by Zippo is a fake. Directly above is the bottom of the lighter, showing the fake manufacturer marks.
The Zippo Click Collectors Club was formed in 2002 and debuted at that year’s international swap meet. At the Zippo/Case International Swap Meet 2004, a members-only get together was held at the Pennhills Country Club, where 54 years earlier Mr. Blaisdell shot a hole-in-one. At this writing, Zippo Click has 9,000+ members from around the world.
By 2004, Zippo lighters had appeared in thousands of movies, on more than 120 television shows, and on stage about 30 times.
Today, though most products are simply disposable or available with limited warranties, the Zippo lighter still comes with its famous lifetime guarantee, “It works or we fix it for free.TM” No one has ever spent a cent on the repair of a Zippo lighter regardless of the lighter’s age or condition.
The great news is Zippo lighters can turn up anywhere. With more than 400 million produced to date, you’re bound to spot them in a variety of places. Garage sales, flea markets, and antiques shops are good places to start. We also wouldn’t be surprised if your friends and/or family have a special Zippo lighter tucked away. The Internet is chock full of good online shopping, too.
Displaying your collection is relatively easy due to the small size of the lighters. Later on, we’ll talk about lighter collector clubs, which are a haven for buying, trading and selling Zippo lighters.
Our collection consists of approximately 600 pieces. Six hundred may sound like a lot to some people, but there are collectors who have thousands. On the other hand, some collections may consist of five or 10 Zippo lighters. It’s not necessarily about the number of lighters a person has accumulated in his or her collection—it’s the love of these small pieces of art and history or perhaps a piece that strikes a personal feeling that is more important.
Because of the popularity of Zippo lighter collecting, you must be aware of “fakes.” Fakes are Zippo lighter look-a-likes, which can sometimes almost fool a seasoned collector. As we already mentioned, Zippo has been granted trademark registration for the shape of the Zippo lighter; however, fakes do continue to slip through the cracks.
Indications of fakes are a misspelled advertisement on the front of the case or an incorrect stamping on the bottom of the case. In the photo, you’ll see the letter “U” to the left of the word Zippo. The letter should indicate the month of production: A=January through L=December. “U” is an invalid month code. Also, notice the “R” instead of the correct “P” in “Bradford, RA.”
Repainted lighters may be nice in your collection, but only if you know they are repainted and don’t mind them not being totally original. If the paint is 100 percent but there is brass showing through the chrome plating, for example, the lighter has most likely been repainted.
Zippo Manufacturing Company offers the service of repainting your Zippo lighter for a fee. It should be noted that paint color variances do appear between Zippo lighters manufactured in America and those produced in Canada, as well as artwork produced in different years.
Popsicle Zippo lighter, Pemico Foods, Perry, Iowa, 1961, $500-$600.
Rich Whip Topping Zippo lighter, 1966, $225-$250.
Coffee Rich Zippo lighter, 1973, $100-$125.
Marlboro Zippo lighter, 1976, $100-$125.
Coca-Cola Zippo lighter, 1977, $125-$150.
Camel pop-art Zippo lighter, 1996, $125-$135.
The insert—the removable, inner mechanism—often gets exchanged for one reason or another. Distinguishing different model years of inserts is based on the material composition, the verbiage and its position on the insert, the number of holes in the chimney, and numerous other factors. Detailed reference material is a must to correctly identify the exact year of an insert. A good rule of thumb is an insert can possibly be older than the case by a year or so and be the original insert. The flip side is if an insert is newer than the case, it is most likely not the original insert.
The packaging for Zippo lighters has evolved over time. Again, like inserts, your Zippo lighter may be purchased or found in a container that is not original.
As with any collectible, preserving all original components increases the value of a piece. If you are looking for an investment, the complete and original packaging, guarantee paperwork, insert and mint case are more important than they might be to a casual collector.
Another lively topic of conversation is whether to remove price and safety stickers from Zippo lighters. Every new Zippo lighter distributed in the U.S. has an orange safety sticker on the back of the case and quite often a price sticker on the front of the case. You’ll also find vintage lighters with their original price stickers still intact. So, do you remove the stickers or leave them as is? Welcome to the great sticker debate. These stickers, over time, will cause damage to the lighter’s finish.
Stickers placed on the lighters by sellers at garage sales or antique shops will do the same damage. The greatest concern is discoloration and glue residue. Discoloration is extremely noticeable on a brass finish. If you remove an older sticker, you risk exposing the damage. In our opinion, by removing an older sticker, you are also removing some of the originality of the product. If your lighter has a sticker on it, the lighter is most likely in mint condition; if you remove the sticker and find damage, you will then need to find a method to return the case to its original mint condition, if possible. This, in itself, may cause more damage to the case.
High polish chrome is prone to scratching easily. On the other hand, the majority of collectors immediately remove all stickers from recently released lighters, i.e. manufactured within the last 10 years, hoping to prevent damage before it starts. So, do you remove the stickers or leave them as is?
We’ll leave that sticky decision up to you. Please note we do recommend you immediately remove the flint from any collectible Zippo lighter you currently own or purchase in the future. The flints deteriorate over time and become lodged in the flint tube, which in turn will freeze the flint wheel and can severely damage the tube.
Zippo lighters have been used as an advertising medium since 1935. What began as a company’s way to promote its name and/or services has evolved into an avenue to promote practically anything.
Zippo lighters can be found bearing artwork depicting a variety of special events, people, places and things. Some of these Zippo lighters may spark a memory in you.
While many folks choose to collect whatever tickles their fancy, some folks focus on a particular theme.
Zippo Manufacturing Company does produce personalized Zippo lighters through its Zippo Promotional Products Division, with a 50-piece minimum order required. The company will take your submitted artwork (some restrictions apply) and create a design of your preference. You may see some of these in your hunting expeditions.
Joining a lighter collector club is a delightful way to increase your knowledge of Zippo lighters and add to your collection. Many of the clubs publish newsletters, and all of them hold a minimum of one swap meet a year.
Numerous clubs exist throughout the world, and their contact information may be found at the Zippo Click Collectors Club Web site (www.zippoclick.com); a few of them are listed here.
Zippo Click Collectors Club
Sponsored by Zippo Manufacturing Company
Web site: www.zippoclick.com
OTLS (On the Lighter Side)
Web site: www.OTLS.com
PLPG (Pocket Lighter Preservation Guild)
Web site: webpages.charter.net/buylighter