Before the Lucifer Match

Editor's Note: The following excerpt is drawn from Country Life in Canada Fifty Years Ago, personal recollections and reminiscences of a sexagenarian, by Canniff Haight (Hunter, Rose & Co., Toronto, 1885).

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Very little things sometimes contribute largely to the comfort of a family, and among those I may mention the Lucifer match, then unknown. It was necessary to carefully cover up the live coals on the hearth before going to bed, so that there would be something to start the firs with in the morning. This precaution rarely failed with good hard-wood coals. But sometimes they died out, and then some one would have to go to a neighbour's house for fire, a thing which I have done sometimes, and it was not nice to have to crawl out of my warm nest and run through the keen cold air for a half mile or more to fetch some live coals, before the morning light had broken in the east. My father usually kept some bundles of finely split pine sticks tipped with brimstone for starting a fire. With these, if there was only a spark left, a fire could soon be made.

The only way [to produce fire] known to them [settlers in the 1830s] was the primitive one of rubbing two sticks together and producing fire by friction – a somewhat tedious process – or with a flint, a heavy jack-knife, and a bit of punk, a fungous growth, the best of which for this purpose is obtained from the beech. Gun flints were most generally used. One of these was placed on a bit of dry punk, and held firmly in the left hand, while the back of the closed blade of the knife thus brought into contact with the flint by a quick downward stroke of the right hand produced a shower of sparks, some of which, falling on the punk, would ignite; and thus a fire was produced.


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