Recently I found this Victorian metal match box and I would love to make it work again. As you can see in this pic, I've been cleaning the match friction on bottom with a metal sponge but it is still not working. Does anyone know what I should do? Cheers,

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  • Are you using safety matches (which require a chemical striker) or friction matches? Feb 26 at 17:00
  • Hey @WeatherVane, thanks for commenting. I'm using friction matches. Actually, there were some of the original matches inside, but of course, I've replace them with new ones.
    – Alisson
    Feb 26 at 17:24
  • What is the material behind the grille? Is it intended to be a replaceable striking base, with the grille holding it in place? Feb 26 at 17:28
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    The material behind the grille may be a substance called amadou, which is a kind of tinder. There is a line of research for you... I am not sure that a match is supposed to be struck on the grille, but somewhere else like a wall or your fingernail. Just a guess. Feb 27 at 19:51
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    Where did you get friction matches? Modern wood matches do not ignite, except when rubbed on the special surface on the side of the box, containing ground glass and red phosphorus. See 99boulders.com/safety-matches-vs-strike-anywhere-matches Mar 12 at 23:27

1 Answer 1


Genuine historical "friction matches" are made with white phosphorus, a very toxic and dangerous substance that I wouldn't want anywhere near me. There are some modern matches that are advertised as "strike everywhere" or "friction matches", but most of them seem to use the safer alternative phosphorus sesquisulfide and they will not be the same as historical matches.

The typical modern matches are "safety matches" that use red phosphorous instead of white one. You have to combine the chemicals on the match head with those on the striking strip on the outside of the box. That's what makes them "safety" matches: they cannot ignite by rubbing against each other or other objects. They must be rubbed against a dedicated striking surface to ignite.

So my attempt at making this matchbox functional again would be to scrape the substance of the striking strip from a (or several) modern match boxes and pack it into the grooves. I'm not sure if it can be dissolved in water to make it stick. If it doesn't stick and doesn't dissolve in water, I would try mixing a very small amount (like a single drop) of melted candle wax to the substance before packing it into the grooves.

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