Lighter of the Great War / Trench Lighter / Briquet Poilu
Through this blog I aim to show a selection of lighters produced during and in the years following the Great War. Including trench art and industrial made lighters of the period. All the lighters featured are from my own collection.
Featured are 2 prized trench art lighters from my collection. Both were found in England, the first in 1998 and the second about 2005.
Both lighters are near identical in materials and construction and I believe they were made by the same person or certainly in the same workshop.
The lighters are of Chinese origin, I have spoken to a good friend in China who has helped with the translation and meaning of the design.
The manufacture of objects like these can be attributed to the 200.000 strong Chinese Labour corps (CLC), who served the war effort gallantly in France, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia and French Colonies during the Great War.
In Jane Kimball's book she tells us how, short of men for none combatant labour tasks the British and French governments set about recruiting Chinese peasants and farmers. New recruits were offered generous pay and the promise that they would not be required to fight.
Upon arriving in France in 1917, the CLC were set to work repairing roads and rail tracks as well as working in factories and the docks. Members of the CLC also worked on the development of the Tank, it was believed their lack of understanding of English would help keep the project secret.
Members of the Chinese Labour Corp were known to make metal trench art for sale as souvenirs to military personnel and battlefield tourists during the Great War. Examples of their work are very rare.
In her book Jane Kimball suggests that the majority of Chinese Labour Corp could not read or write and that the majority of trench art with Chinese writing was likely purchased by tourists visiting China in the post war years.
So although the lighters are trench art in style and materials it is difficult to be 100% sure when attributing their manufacture to the Chinese Labour Corp. Though I do personally believe they were made in France.
My friend in China describes the design of the lighter and lid as a Coffin (not funerary) it is a shape which represents Chinese morals, promotion and wealth.
The first lighter I feature is of brass and copper in the “Coffin” shape.
BRIQUET No 1
The three Chinese characters on the lid of the lighter are "自来火～zi lai huo", meaning “THE LIGHTER”, which is an expression from ancient China.
The three characters on the body of the lighter are "张作云～Zhang zuo yun", this was probably the NAME of the lighter's owner.
The design features a lotus leaf which symbolizes the noble and Holy Gentleman's image. Also a plum blossom which symbolises strength and elegances, the other design could be a Loquat, a fruit tree which symbolises the prosperity of an heir; I suppose a wish of good luck and fortune.
The second lighter I feature is also made of brass and copper.
Like the first lighter it is also in the Coffin shape.
The Chinese character reads "寿～Shou" a symbol of old age, longevity, usually a birthday to an old man.
On the front is featured the Peony, symbolising the noble, elegant temperament of the people. The Peony is China's national flower and has great symbolic significance, the history of Guosetianxiang said, its elegance in many literary and artistic works are fully expressed.
The other side features the pattern of the pomegranate; to pray for life like pomegranate flower as flourishing, the pomegranate fruit contains a lot of seeds, commonly used to symbolise family prosperity. The fruit of the pomegranate is often presented as a gift of prosperity in ancient times.
Like many lighters produced in France during the Great War it is a wish of good luck and prosperity and survival.
The “peeping” Poilu is one of my favourite industrial lighters; our mischievous friend is found on one knee peering through the keyhole into the ladies Boudoir. Unaware of his attention our innocent damsel stands naked before her mirror, a good humorous lightly erotic piece.
As my collecting advanced I became aware of a much rarer example of this lighter.
I was told of a model where the lady was covered, wearing her night dress.
My search for this rare piece had started. It took me 10 years but finally at the lighter collectors meeting in Krefeld I was able to find a good example for my collection.
And I present her here, a more modest lighter, perhaps so the smoker could share the fun with friends and family away from the trenches.
Featured is an interesting figural trench art lighter.
Made of brass and then chrome plated, it is modelled as a ship, perhaps a battleship? or a fishing vessel?
The lighter is made with a small stand, so to be stood on a desk or shelf.
This lighter was discovered in Spain, I do not know its history, I expect it is old perhaps 1930's or even earlier?
The style of the ship certainly appears to be very old.
The flint wheel is mounted on the top of the “Tower.” Notice how the flint stone is placed into a “door” at the base of the tower and pushed up to the wheel by the spring. I also like the portholes on the side.
I am happy to have more information about this lighter if anybody knows.