I came upon this box of matches, it's probably from around 1900 and has significance for my family history, and I would like to add it to my "box o' historical items" but I'm concerned about flammability. I know that old negatives can combust spontaneously, is there a similar danger with matches? What is the recommended way to store these safely? box open box showing match


I've also asked this question on chemistry.stackexchange.com

  • 3
    Not sure this belongs on history. Seems more like a straight science question to me. – Lars Bosteen May 30 at 13:07
  • 1
    An oxygen-free environment should do the trick (inert gas, vacuum, etc.) – Steve Bird May 30 at 13:14
  • 2
    If you are saving this as memorabilia, why keep the matches. See this article concerning collecting matchbooks: In most matchbook collections, *only the match covers are collected. Phillumenists, as matchbook collectors are known, "shuck" matchbooks by carefully prying open the staple to remove the matches from the inside of the cover* – justCal May 30 at 13:16
  • Another alternative is to snip off the ends with the chemicals; for verisimilitude, you could then dip the new end into a dark brown paint/sand mix. – Jurp May 30 at 13:26
  • 1
    I asked the professional historian girlfriend for advice. Off the top of her head, without consulting professional resources, her top three answers were 1) snip the tops off, 2) store in a vacuum, or 3) soak the tips till they are not dangerous. – Mark C. Wallace May 30 at 16:38

Since combustion requires oxygen, you can prevent the risk of combustion by placing the matchbox in an oxygen-free environment. This can be done either by removing all gasses from the environment, i.e. creating a vacuum, or by replacing the oxygen with another inert gas.

As the matchbox is fairly small, this can be done on a small scale with a sealable glass jar, a bit of wire mesh and a helium balloon. Place the matchbox in the glass jar and secure the wire mesh inside the jar (this just needs to be secure enough to prevent the matchbox falling out at the next stage). Turn the jar upside down, so the open mouth of the jar is the lowest point. Then release the helium from the balloon into the jar, since the gas is lighter than air it will rise and displace the air in the jar. When the balloon is empty, seal the jar. The matchbox will now be in a helium environment.

There's a good chance that the helium will slowly diffuse out of the jar over time but, if the seal is good enough, the larger air molecules won't be able to get in. So the effect will simply be to reduce the pressure inside the jar (which should increase the seal). Once the seal breaks down, it's easy enough to repeat the process with a new jar/lid.

An additional benefit, is that this should also prevent the risk of pest and moisture damage to the box.

| improve this answer | |
  • You can increase the life of the seal by dipping the top of the jar into wax, just past the edge of the cover, then wipe the top of the cover clean. This will leave a second, wax, seal around the top (much like a bottle of good wine). – Jurp May 30 at 21:23

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.