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Tinderboxes & Matches

A guide to using a tinderbox in the Georgian era

Ever wonder how our heroes and heroines of the Georgian era lit candles? It wasn't easy and could take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour to try to accomplish.

An experienced maid or footman could probably light within 10-20 seconds, but it would require skill, existing light to see what they were doing, and good products with which to work. Hint: matches as we know them didn't exist yet.

To light a candle, one needed a tinderbox. To make things easier, candles were rarely ever "fixed," such as in a sconce or chandelier, rather they were portable; thus, once lit, they could be carried from room to room. Granted, the cheaper candles would only burn for about 15 minutes, but let's focus on the lighting process rather than the candle!

A fabulous video showing the contents of a tinderbox and how to light a candle:

Tinderbox contents:

  • Extra candle wick

  • Candle

  • Steel

  • Flint

  • Sulfur dipped wooden sticks (called "spunks" or "brimstone matches") (the precursor to the match)

  • Charred cloth

  • Damper

The process our heroes and heroines would have used to light a bedside candle would have looked like this:

(1) Open the tinderbox and take out the flint and steel.

(2) Holding the flint in one hand, strike the steel against the flint in a downward motion over the tinderbox (which contained a piece of charred cloth).

(3) With luck, a spark would fall into the box and catch on the cloth.

(4) Hold the burning cloth to a flammable tinder, such as a sulfur match.

(5) Once there is a flame, put out the burning cloth with the damper.

(6) Hold burning tinder to the candle wick until it lights.

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