Zippo Lighters & Stories

I found this great website and blog called Accidental Mysteries.  I learned of these Zippo lighters on that blog.  Bradford Edwards spent many years searching for these lighters in Vietnam.  This collection of hand engraved Zippo lighters that he sourced , have now gone to auction, and have been documented in the book Vietnam Zippos: American Soldiers’ Engravings and Stories 1965-1973.

Zippo lighters were first sold in 1933. You see them being used in Mad Men thanks to Dan Draper and his suave style.  And yes, they were so suave and cool. I still remember  the flip and sound of these lighters as the flame appeared. In stainless steel, during the Vietnam War many soldiers had them engraved by the village street vendors.  It was one way that soldiers could express themselves and the toll that war was taking on their lives. These Zippo lighters reflect history and speak visually to a profound story. How many of these men lived, how many died, how many disappeared leaving these thoughts behind. I imagine a soldier late at night lighting a cigarette and seeing in the flickering light a reminder of the lives they were living in Vietnam, and the lives they had left at home.  The engravings speak to fear, love, anger, patriotism and all sorts of human emotions. These voices are still heard in the patina and words of these objects. It touches me to see this…reminders of the person who held these in their hands.

I wonder what I would have written.


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2 Responses to Zippo Lighters & Stories

  1. Abby says:

    I love the traces of humanity left on these lighters, these instruments for creating tiny flames, for illuminating the night, for warming a cold & hostile world. Thanks for writing this!

  2. Solveig Karina Nordwall says:

    This is my Zippo story not even remotely connected to ‘Nam. It is from the third of my son’s and my trans-Pacific crossing on Norwegian freighters from Japan to Vancouver, BC. The first two were on Ro-Ro ships (Roll on, Roll off, the ones that carry 4000 cars from Japan to N. America and timber on the return run – all of it in the holds with the deck and cabins up high).

    In 2001 I still smoked…menthols. My son was in his late teens and hated it. I knew I’d have to sneak a lot of smokes during our 2-week ocean crossing from Osaka to Vancouver and all of them would have to be on deck, in the wind. My older Zippo had somewhere in my gypsy travels disappeared, so at this marvellous little shop in Yokohama I found a buffed brass one, just what I wanted.

    This time we’re on a container ship, external A to E decks with iron stairs in a zig-zag pattern all the way up. Our cabins are on B deck with the only 2 passenger cabins. A week out…half-way…no can sleep…0200 and I’m on E deck, topside, totally alone in the absolute velvety black of a mid-Pacific night, and I’ve got my smokes and I’ve got my new Zippo and I’m a happy woman. I have CCR on my Discman (remember those?) with my ear-buds, listening to Fogarty and I’m in a fine state. I light my smoke and smile, and in that moment dropped my Zippo. To my silent horrified, Noooooo!!! I listened as it took this amazingly musical ride down the decks, ping-tong-pong, all the way down the iron steps. I have this very clear memory of me dashing down after the sounds and to my utter amazement finding it on B-deck. It was a cartoon moment – I clutched it to my chest. When I examined it carefully in my cabin later all it had was this little ding. I was so proud of it!

    That’s my Mid-Pac Zippo story. I’ve since stopped smoking…menthols…

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