Historical information

Vesta cases, also known as match safes, are small boxes that are used to carry matches and keep them safe from the elements. In the early 1800's, it was common to carry matches, since some type of portable fire was needed to light lanterns and stoves. The matches of that day were crude compared to today's standards, and were known to light when making contact with each other, and sometimes even spontaneously. In order to alleviate this potentially hazardous situation, it made good sense to utilize a vesta case or match safe.

One of the more interesting features of the vesta case or match safes is that they almost always include some type of rough or ribbed surface, usually on the bottom of the case that is used for striking the matches. This vesta case is the portable pocket vesta which also has a bale (ring) near the hinge so that they can be suspended from a chain.
These cases take their name from the virgin Roman goddess of fire, home, hearth and family. Usually Vesta was depicted as the fire in her temple. Only Vestals (her priestesses) were allowed into her temple. Her association with fire made her name the natural choice for British companies that manufactured matches.

The hallmarking of sterling silver is based on a combination of marks that makes possible the identification of origin and age. The town mark identifies the Assay Office where the item was verified. The town mark on this piece, three wheat sheaves and a sword identify Chester, in Cheshire, England as the town of creation. The lion passant guardant certifies the silver quality, as between 925 and 1000. The maker's mark, identifying the silversmith presenting the piece to the assay office is W.N. for William Neale. The date letter identifies the year the piece was verified, this case being verified in 1903.

William Neale and Sons was a firm was established by William Neale in 1850 in Birmingham. His mark was entered at the Birmingham assay office in April 1862 and in the Chester assay office in September 1882.


The social history objects held in the Burke Museum's collection help to tell the stories of Beechworth's past by showing the social, cultural, and economic aspects of the town's history.

Physical description

A silver vesta case with a ribbed strike plate at the end, a ring to attach the case to a chain and a cover that can be pushed up to open.

Inscriptions & markings

W.N/ lion symbol/ Three Sheaves of Wheat and Sword/ C/ [hallmarks]