In the very beginning (or in 1883…) ‘Swan wax matches’ were first produced, and later superseded by ‘Swan White Pine Vestas’ which were intended to appeal to smokers in particular since they burn better in open air. In 1906 the matches were finally christened ‘Swan Vestas’, and by the 1930s they’d become Britain’s best selling match.
Up until the mid 80s, Swan used the tagline “The Smoker’s Match” which was later replaced by “The Original” which is still on today’s packaging.
By WW2, Swan as a brand had become so popular that the manufacturers at the time. Bryant & May, were able to buy a company Spitfire for the RAF. It was named, of course, ‘The Swan’.
Not only do Swan float atop Britain’s filter tip popularity contest, the last few years have seen the launch of the new and improved Swan Green papers made with natural Arabic gum. Combined with blended natural hemp and flax fibres, they are easier to roll, slower to burn and a much smoother smoke. No other rolling paper manufacturer produces them this way… (we’re just thinking of you).
2008 saw Swan celebrate its 125th anniversary and so to celebrate, the Golden Match promotion offered a £1,000 prize to 125 lucky winners who spotted a match with a golden head in their box of Vestas.
During 2010-2012, Swan made the (very wise) decision to sponsor a British Superbike team, Swan Yamaha. Hands were shook, hopes were high, and at 2011’s prestigious British Superbike Championships, racer Tommy Hill revved his way to the finish line in none other than first place.
The original brand image started out illustrating a swan on a pond with rushes and water lilies in the background. The serene image of the gliding swan is still reflected today, albeit smaller than her predecessors. She is clean cut, white and still retains its regal profile that was created back when it all began.
By the turn of last century a new design was created to replace the original, which in turn became the model that almost all subsequent designs relied on. The original red and green designs were printed on to yellow card; the white colour of the swan was introduced only when the printing processes were updated and changed the colour of card used.
Before the effects of WW1 halted proceedings in 1914, ‘Royal Swan Vestas’ were to be introduced with multicoloured heads to the matches and packed in a svelte box adorned with gold leaf lettering. The impressive design was later picked up in 1958 for the Christmas trade where the tips were 'double dipped' in gold and the same colour as the match box, of which there was a choice of red, green, maroon and blue.
Swan tried out a few mad-cap designs for their matchboxes during the early 1900s, one of which was the ‘Dainty Swan Vestas’ produced for the ladyfolk. The words ‘For My Lady’ were inscribed on each presentation case, and later spread to aprons, playing cards, pens and postcards. The postcards featured two pretty ladies on the reverse holding a matchbox and the name of a seaside resort. They could’ve even made Bognor look classy.
The first Swan poster was unleashed upon us in 1912 advertising Swan Vestas. It ran with the slogan “The Smoker’s Match. Refuse all imitations – insist upon having Swans”.
Miniature versions of the posters were also available in the form of postcards, and in this case the advertising paid for itself when holiday makers purchased them whilst at the seaside.
Due to the changes and shortages that came about around WW2, all luxury brands disappeared. The very least Swan could do to support the national cut-backs was to state on all of their packs “Use Matches Sparingly”. When the war was over, the slogan “The Smoker’s Match” returned to the box and remained the backbone of each advertising campaign until the mid 80’s.
The golden era of film meets The Smoker's Match in these 1980s Old Flame press ads featuring on billboards around the country.
A classic 80's TV ad for Swan Vestas
Seen playing on its popularity during the height of TV advertising for matches, here’s what Miss World looked like circa 1981-82…
Vesta was the name of the virgin goddess whose duties and responsibilities included anything that fell under the hearth (a fireplace to you and I), home, and family bracket.
An urban myth that has been knocking about for a few years relates how an employee had an idea that could save Swan millions of pounds in production costs, but only if he could get his share of the dough before sharing his idea with the Board. “Instead of having two sandpaper strips on the matchbox, you only need one…” Swan in turn saved millions and the employee (or ex-employee, at that point…) sailed off into the horizon with bucket loads of cash.
Swan has always ensured that they give their customers something to thank them for their loyalty through a variety of promotions. So, around WW1 Swan ran a promotion giving away free life insurance policies which were inserted into every matchbox. The smallprint included that the lucky policyholder needed to have the Swan Vestas on them at the time of the accident and any death must be due to an injury received whilst travelling!
Fan of the cool Cuban roots collective Buena Vista Social Club? We love St Alban’s answer to the very same…... the Swan Vesta Social Club!
Check out them out here
A screamingly obvious imitation of the Swan Vesta matches appeared in Wallace & Gromit’s A Grand Day Out, thinly disguised as "Duck Matches”, only to make a reappearance in the fourth homage A Matter of Loaf and Death.
Finding a half burnt "vesta" helped solve the crime in the Sherlock Holmes story, Silver Blaze. The reference also makes a comeback in The Man with the Twisted Lip, where one of Holmes’ suspects pretends to have "a small trade in wax vestas" in order to avoid the police. John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps offered a get-out-of-jail tip when Richard Hannay discovers "an odd vesta or two" and manages to escape from prison.
The “reassuring shake” of Swan Vestas are used as an instrument by Stomp for one of the numbers in their Broadway performances, thus creating a cool and clever beat. After going to see the musical on numerous occasions, we can't get enough of them... who'd have thought they could be so comical? Check them out and you'll see what we mean!
Q: What do we love most about this album cover?
a) Its reminiscence of the 1960s psychedelic rock erab) It's The Quo's 1968 debut album (your Dad’ll remember)c) The band are sat on top of a mountain of Swan Vesta matchboxes.
A: The correct answer is... all three! (but mainly C).
Never use sun beds, especially ones with faulty timers à la poor Rodney in Only Fools and Horses, before he trots into the pub with a sunburnt face. What an absolute honour to get a mention - “He looks like a Swan Vesta!” claimeth Del Boy (cue laughter track).