It seems like I'm surrounded by phillumenists lately, but I'm not alarmed. In fact, I'm pleased.

A phillumenist is a fancy name for people who collect matchbooks and matchbook labels, cigarette lighters, pipes and other smoking accessories.

Last fall, I brought up the topic of collecting match safes to the students in my antiques seminars taught through the City of San Jose's Department of Parks and Recreation. They were hooked.

Match safes -- or vesta cases as they are called in the British Isles -- are small, usually rectangular boxes carried from the 1850s until about 1920 to keep matches safe and dry. Fashioned from chrome, aluminum, brass, silver or gold, they were typically ornamented with the American flag, flowers, dragons, beautiful women or symbols of fraternal organizations.

Nowadays, some of the most avidly collected match safes are those referred to as figural. They may take on the shape of an owl, bear, ship or even noted politicians of yesteryear.

The match safe has a small, serrated edge used as a striking surface, which distinguishes it from similar-looking novelty items.

Because match safes were made in large quantities they aren't hard to locate. At a recent Grass Valley antiques show, I saw hundreds. Some were tagged under $50 while others had an asking price of $200.

When I polled my students about their budding interest in match safes, one said "They're small, they don't take up much room, and they are interesting."

This teacher likes the way his pupils think.


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Glass extravaganza

The annual Vintage Glass, Pottery, China Show and Sale is set for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 19 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 20 at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, 344 Tully Road, San Jose. Admission is $6. On Sunday, bring one guest for free with your paid ticket. B.J. Harmon will appraise pottery and glass for free (limit of two items). For details, call 408-394-3521.

Outdoor show

The Spring Pleasanton Antiques and Collectibles Faire on May 27 kicks off the season of outdoor shows with as many as 400 vendors and merchants participating on and near Main Street.

Sue Okey will provide free evaluations (limit of three objects), 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Main and Division streets near the information booth.

The show begins at 9 a.m. and runs until 4 p.m., but wise folks show up at the crack of dawn to get first dibs on the merchandise. Admission and parking are free. For more information call 650-242-1294 or go to www.pleasantonantiquefair.com.

The Tsar's best

Time's running out to see "The Tsar's Cabinet: 200 Years of Decorative Arts under the Romanovs" at the Sonoma County Museum. The exhibition closes May 27.

This exquisite collection demonstrates the majesty of the art pieces commissioned by rulers such as Catherine the Great. The show serves to honor the 200th anniversary of Fort Ross, and reminds us of the Russian Empire's expansion into North America. Fort Ross thrived from 1812 to 1841.

The show is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays at 425 Seventh St., Santa Rosa. Admission is $7. For information, call 707-579-1500.

Contact Steven Wayne Yvaska at steve.yvaska@sbcglobal.net or at 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, CA 95190.