Founded in 1883 in Bootle on Merseyside by the Collard & Kendall match company, the Swan brand began as “Swan wax matches”. These comprised a wooden splint soaked in wax.
In 1906 they were renamed “Swan Vestas’ becoming a brand of Bryant and May and by the 1930s ‘Swan Vestas’ had become ‘Britain’s best selling match’.
The brand is now owned by the Swedish Match company who manufacture Swan Vestas in Sweden from sustainabily grown aspen wood. They are the most popular brand of “strike-anywhere” matches in the UK.
My Swan Vestas: Two stories highlight the importance of this iconic British brand, one is true and the other is probably appocraphal.
The first, I recall from my Father who was senior in Marketing for Shell in London. Shell’s advertising agency for almost everything was Ogilvy and Mather. David Ogilvy, the genius advertising guru, was a pipe smoker who often carried Swan Vestas but not for simply lighting his tobacco. The story goes that he advised my Father that post a visit to an unfamiliar bathroom that the resulting odor could be quickly dispersed by the judicious use of a couple of struck Swan Vestas!
We have them in all bathrooms to this day and, as far as I can tell no-one in our house smokes a pipe!
When studying Law in the late 1970’s in order to illustrate the power of an enforceable Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) my Contracts Professor told the following story:
A pipe-smoker arrived at Bryant and May’s door claiming that he had a way of saving the company thousands a year but prior to disclosing his idea he needed the comfort of a signed NDA. The agreement would for the foreseeable future guarantee he and his descendants a percentage of the financial interest in the saving that the company would make as a result of his unique idea.
The company agreed and an acceptable document was drafted and signed by both parties.
Suitably comforted the pipe-smoker explained that he had smoked a pipe for many years and in all that time he had never had to resort to using the second edge of glass paper adhered to the box as only one of the two strips of glass paper had proved more than sufficient for striking all of the boxes “average contents” of 85 matches.
Enthusiastically, Bryant and May accepted his idea as the incremental saving on glass paper – by adhering it to only one edge – was, of course, significant. The story ran that our pipe-smoking hero and his family financially benefitted for many years from this cleaver thinking and the NDA assured them of payment!
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Photo from Swan Vestas