Bryant & May ‘Pearl’ safety matches, London, England, 1890-1940

Matchbox Bryant & May ‘Pearl’ safety matches, London, England, 1890-1940 (match box)

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Matchbox
Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Matchbox, chipboard and paper originally holding "Pearl" safety matches by Bryant and May's, Fairfield Works, Bow, London, converted into novelty box, with spring operated well, English, 1890-1940

Match-making was a particularly dangerous job in the 1800s. Workers – mainly women – employed by companies such as Bryant & May to make matches commonly experienced a condition known as phossy jaw. This was caused by poisoning from the yellow phosphorous used in the head of the match.

Phossy jaw was a terribly disfiguring and sometimes fatal condition. Eventually, a combination of this health danger, poor pay and long hours led to the formation of a trade union for the workers. The Match Girls Strike of 1888, led by social activist Annie Besant (1847-1933), was a landmark industrial action and led to better pay. In 1901, Bryant & May finally stopped using yellow phosphorous in their matches.

Details

Category:
Smoking
Collection:
Sir Henry Wellcome's Museum Collection
Object Number:
A655226
Materials:
wood, chipboard, cardboard, paper, pine, phosphorus and metal, spring
Measurements:
overall: 21 mm x 57 mm x 38 mm,
type:
match box