The thing about... Zippo lighters

Serena Mackesy
Friday 27 September 1996 23:02

One of the bits of wisdom disseminated by those advising smokers on how to give up is to throw away all the accoutrements of the weed. Ditch the nacre-covered party case, heave that art deco holder, turn the ashtrays into peanut bowls, sling that tiny silver spoon on a chain - whoops, wrong habit. If you're going to prove your determination, they all have to go.

There is one thing, though, that anybody would be a fool to throw out. No well-equipped handbag is complete without a Zippo lighter. Non-smokers may bask in the warmth of their own smugness, but we sads can bask in the warmth of something more practical: our own bonfire. There are few greater pleasures than refusing to lend someone your lighter.

Zippo, the windproof, rainproof fire-maker with the distinctive opening clunk, was reproduced for the 300 millionth time in April; next year will be its 60th year in production. They have the same iconic status as the Harley Davidson. Visitors to Vietnam come home with handfuls of them, purchased from little boys on the street and most of them bearing battle scars. So many of these change hands that you wonder how the GIs had room for any weapons.

The Zippo has long been a collectible, and its manufacturers have been catering to that market with annual new editions. Like Swatch, however, the knowledge that people will buy anything for an investment seems to have gone to their heads. This year's edition features a set of Pin-up girls. There are five: a Pinup of the Year called Joan from Chicago (The Windy City - geddit?) and four scantily-clad lovelies representing the four seasons.

The girls in question - atomic bosoms, and acres of lightly tanned flesh, go by the names of April, Sommer, Ida Redd and Holly. Holly perches on a big green Christmas bauble, Ida Redd bends over a barrel of apples in hot pants and cowboy boots; April's furled umbrella points delicately to her crotch. Sommer, meanwhile sits in a swimsuit on an enormous lighted Fourth of July rocket, the sort of symbolism that has long been the subject of pastiche. A shame. Simple they may be, but Zippos have a timeless perfection that transcends fad. These specimens are about as collectible as Tennant's Lager cans.

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