Lot 99    

Vietnam Zippo Lighter Collection
6/21/2012 - American History, Including the Civil War
Lot of 282 Vietnam War-era Zippo lighters featuring personalized and anonymous engravings chosen by U.S. soldiers, sailors, and airmen during deployment. The collection has been compiled individually by American artist Bradford Edwards over several years in the 1990s, on-site in Vietnam.
 
Edwards, who said in an NPR interview on the collection I’m not a Zippo collector; I’m not somebody into the Zippo, per se, explains that he is fascinated with the lighters as window in the minds and experiences of the men experiencing a certain place and time.  He has used the lighters as inspiration and media in his art, but the collection itself has grown to be a statement of its own, and became the basis of the book Vietnam Zippos: American Soldiers’ Engravings and Stories 1965-1973 (Sherry Buchanan, University of Chicago Press, 2010), which was spotlighted by New York Times, NPR, and other media outlets.  The lot includes all lighters featured in that book and more.
 
Edwards estimates that he has examined tens of thousands of Vietnam Zippos.  As Vietnam has evolved into a more modern and open nation in the last 20 years, foreign tourists have driven a growing market in the mementos, leading to an explosion in fakes.  Edwards proclaims there are no real Zippos in Vietnam now. The scene is over.  James Fiorella, author of The Vietnam Zippo (Schiffer Publishing, 1998) and probably the only authority on the subject with an expertise equal to Edwards, agrees, and warns collectors that over 95% of Zippos being sold in the open-air markets of Ho Chi Minh City and Ebay alike are fakes. 
 
Edwards was careful not to target specific sentiments or designs in the engravings, but simply to seek out authenticity and let the objects speak for themselves.  As such, the lighters capture a wide range of feelings and opinions about the war, from the obscenity-laden anti-army mottoes of the unwilling draftees, to the simple love notes of the homesick, to the 8 Special Forces emblazoned lighters, conspicuously absent of any further embellishment. 
 
The Vietnam War represented something different than all other American Wars, previous and since.  There were the regular army soldiers, many raised by World War II heroes and viewing their job as a duty and privilege.  There were victims of fate, the unwilling, drafted by lottery, many poor and minority, resentful of their government and military superiors.   And there were those along for the ride, not interested in glory or politics, merely trying to follow orders and earn their ticket home.  Regardless, they were all connected by the Zippo, the utilitarian tool carried by nearly all soldiers since World War II, a symbol of dependability and the rare thing that all soldiers could count on.  Used for lighting cigarettes, heating food, illuminating letters from home, or setting fire to huts of suspected VC, Zippos were used so frequently in Search & Destroy missions that GIs nicknamed them "Zippo Missions" or "Zippo Raids.” After purchasing one from the post exchange store for $1.80, a soldier could personalize his lighter at sidewalk tents with one of wide selection of stock designs or a personalized message.
 
 
 
Many messages, especially those chosen by pre-draft in the 1960s, are related directly to combat.  Some feature the emblems of proud and storied units, often complemented by macho mottoes exhibiting the pride and hubris of soldiers willingly fighting in the world’s strongest army:
 
DEATH FROM ABOVE.
SWIFT, SILENT, DEADLY
WHEN GOD OPENED THE GATES OF HELL, THE 101st WALKED OUT
DEATH IS MY BUSINESS, AND BUSINESS HAS BEEN GOOD.
YEA THOUGH I WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH I WILL FEAR NO EVIL FOR I AM THE EVILEST SON OF A BITCH IN THE JUNGLE
KILL THEM ALL LET GOD SORT THEM OUT
STOLEN FROM A GOOK 5-11-67
35 KILLS IF YOU ARE RECOVERING MY BODY FUCK YOU
SOCK IT TO ME
GIVE NO QUARTER
YOU CAN SURF LATER
 
As the debate about the war intensified back home, soldiers became disillusioned with their mission, and the draft lottery injected a fresh force of often unwilling troops, the inscriptions evolved.  Peace signs, psychedelic designs, and cartoon characters became prevalent.  Charles Schulz’ Peanuts characters were a popular choice, as many soldiers identified with Snoopy’s fight against an imaginary enemy, the Red Baron:
 
LIFE HAS A FLAVOR THE PROTECTED WILL NEVER KNOW
FUCK IT
WHEN I DIE BURY ME FACE DOWN SO THE WORLD CAN KISS MY ASS
PLEASE DON’T TRY TO TELL ME ABOUT VIETNAM I’VE BEEN THERE
WHEN THE POWER OF LOVE IS AS STRONG AS THE LOVE OF POWER THEN THERE WILL BE PEACE
I LOVE THE FUCKING ARMY AND THE ARMY LOVES FUCKING ME
WE THE UNWILLING LED BY THE UNQUALIFIED DOING THE UNNECESSARY FOR THE UNGRATEFUL
FIGHT FOR PEACE, LIVE FOR WAR, DIE FOR NOTHING
WHEN I DIE I’LL GO TO HEAVEN BECAUSE I’VE SPENT MY TIME IN HELL
WHY ME?
 
While some pondered politics and meaning, others had their minds on the same subjects as many 19-year-old peers in America: sex and drugs.  The Playboy logo and nude women were popular motifs, as was the Zig-Zag man, taken from the packets of rolling papers used to roll the increasingly prevalent joint:
 
A FRIEND WITH WEED IS A FRIEND INDEED
ALWAYS RIPPED AND ALWAYS STONED, I MADE IT A YEAR I’M GOING HOME
 
I’D RATHER SMOKE GOD’S GRASS THAN DROWN IN MAN’S JUICE
ASK NOT WHAT YOUR HEAD CAN DO FOR YOU BUT WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR HEAD
GIRL IF YOU WANT TO FUCK SMILE WHEN YOU HAND THIS LIGHTER BACK
CANDY IS DANDY BUT SEX WON’T ROT YOUR TEETH
GIVE ME HEAD TIL I’M DEAD
I LOVE SEX SO BABY YOU CAN GIVE YOUR SOUL TO GOD BECAUSE YOUR ASS IS MINE
 
Some of the most powerful are the simplest: dedications to loved ones and hopeful sentiments from those just wanting to make it home alive.
 
I LOVE YOU MARY
TO MOM FROM A LONELY PARATROOPER
I CAME HERE AND LEFT BEHIND A NICE FAMILY AND A WONDERFUL GIRL I LOVE BUT SOMEDAY I WILL GO HOME
 
Together, the lighters tell a story of the war that cannot be found anywhere else.  They are a record soldiers’ feelings not meant for anyone but themselves, printed on a throwaway tool, capturing the spirit of the war in a way more authentic than any film, more personal than any history book, and more representative than any single soldier’s account.  The Zippo company is scheduled to produce its 500 millionth lighter this summer and will release a commemorative line meant to honor the unique status the simple lighter has earned as a physical symbol of the American experience -- and we dare to say that no grouping is or can be more representative of that sentiment than this.
Sold: $35,250.00
Price includes
Buyer's Premium
      Ask a Question

All Images

don't miss

an opportunity to bid. You can't win if you're not in.

sign up to bid

what's it worth?

ask the experts

sell your item

start selling
Confederate Captain Charles L. Minor, 2nd Virginia Cavalry, CDV
Lot # 35 - Confederate Captain Charles L. Minor, 2nd Virginia Cavalry, CDV
Full length portrait by an anonymous photographer, gold tinted, inked Capt Chas. L. Minor / P.C.S.A. / May 1st 64.  Charles L.C. Minor (1835-1903)  began his Civil War service with enlistment in Second Virginia Cavalry (Mumford's) in 1861, in which he served as a private at Manassas, i... > Item Details
[NEWSPAPER] Revolutionary War, <i>Edinburgh Advertiser</i>, with News on the Battle of Yorktown
Lot # 3 - [NEWSPAPER] Revolutionary War, Edinburgh Advertiser, with News on the Battle of Yorktown
Edinburgh Advertiser, Scotland, dated Dec. 4, 1781, 9 x 12 in. Beginning on the front page and continuing for five columns, with two on the front page and three on page 2, the news is announced of the Battle of Yorktown and the surrender of British General Cornwallis to American General George Washi... > Item Details
Thomas Jefferson Miniature Portrait by William Russell Birch
Lot # 128 - Thomas Jefferson Miniature Portrait by William Russell Birch
William Russell Birch (English, 1755-1834), enamel on copper portrait of Thomas Jefferson, unsigned, with Jefferson written on verso; 1.5 x 1 in. Frame and case added later. Lot also includes binder with accompanying research and provenance.   William Russell Birch, born in Warwick,... > Item Details
Harman Blennerhassett & Jacob Westfall Signed Manuscript, Plus
Lot # 370 - Harman Blennerhassett & Jacob Westfall Signed Manuscript, Plus
Lot includes: 1p manuscript promissory note, April 1, 1802, for delivery of a quantity of wood, signed by Blennerhassett and associate Jacob Westfall; 1.25p manuscript account of Blennerhassett's business with merchant Richard Neale, Jr., ca 1800, for a variety of dry goods, food, and labor; and the... > Item Details
Charles J. Belden Photograph of Cattle Gathered at a Lake
Lot # 272 - Charles J. Belden Photograph of Cattle Gathered at a Lake
Silver gelatin photograph, unmarked, but by Charles Belden, of cattle gathered at a small lake.  Most of the cattle are looking toward the photographer, as if posing for the shot.  Ca 1910s-1940s, 11.75 x 15 in. Charles J. Belden (1888-1963) was born in San Francisco into a wealthy Cali... > Item Details
William Hobbs, 70th Indiana Infantry, Civil War Archive
Lot # 334 - William Hobbs, 70th Indiana Infantry, Civil War Archive
35 items (29 soldier’s letters), 1862-1865. A soldier in the 70th Indiana, William Hobbs, wrote home regularly to his family to keep them up apprised of his experiences in the Civil War. Despite being an invading army in enemy territory, Hobbs’s experiences during the first year and a half of his s... > Item Details
Roland Reed Photogravures of American Indians
Lot # 222 - Roland Reed Photogravures of American Indians
Lot of 15 photogravures, 11 x 14 in., with 7 credited lower left below each image to Roland Reed, Kalispell, Montana, each with Great Northern Railway / "See America First" / National Park Route imprint in lower right corner. Printed title as well as the slogan Glacier National Park, Monta... > Item Details
Cayuse Chief <i>Poor Crane</i>, Also Known as <i>Cutmouth John</i>, Quarter Plate Tintype
Lot # 170 - Cayuse Chief Poor Crane, Also Known as Cutmouth John, Quarter Plate Tintype
Remarkable quarter plate tintype of American Indian chief identified as Yehtiinwic, or Poor Crane (ca 1814-1891), whose name indicates that he was Cayuse, although it has also been suggested that he was Umatilla. Poor Crane's frontier nickname was Cutmouth John, which he acqu... > Item Details
Sgt. <i>George F. Masson,</i> 5th Virginia Cavalry, Quarter Plate Ambrotype with Daguerreotype of Masson as a Boy
Lot # 7 - Sgt. George F. Masson, 5th Virginia Cavalry, Quarter Plate Ambrotype with Daguerreotype of Masson as a Boy
An outstanding clear plate ambrotype of a casually posed wartime cavalryman sporting an imported Continental saber and belted Colt Navy revolver. He wears a grey six button shell jacket edged with tape trim having corporal’s chevrons and cloth epaulettes. Inside the case penciled on a loose pi... > Item Details
CSA Major General Benjamin Cheatham, Autographed CDV
Lot # 36 - CSA Major General Benjamin Cheatham, Autographed CDV
A Brady vignette pencil-signed beneath portrait in Cheatham's distinctive hard-to-read hand, Very Respt / Your Obt. Ser / B J Cheatham / Maj. Gnl CSA. Penciled at top in the field is a notation that appears to read, 1865 / Sept(?) / N. York / Hotel. Benjamin Cheatham (1820-1886) distinguished... > Item Details
Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, ALS, 1552
Lot # 385 - Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, ALS, 1552
1p, 8.5 x 12.25 in., plus 1 x 3.25 in. piece attached; Chalons, 29 May 1552. Entire sheet attached to a heavy piece of paper with strip attached to long edge on verso. Boldly signed Caterine and countersigned Duthier. Document with transcription, translation, and notes. Catherine writes to Madame de... > Item Details
Morrow & Haynes American Indian Stereoviews
Lot # 213 - Morrow & Haynes American Indian Stereoviews
Lot of 3 stereoviews, including the following titles: No. 10. Fort Rice, Dakota, Gov't Cemetery and Indian grave in foreground, and No. 11. Cheyenne Village, both with S.J. Morrow's Yankton, Dakota studio imprint on mount recto; plus 587 Indian Burial Ground, with Haynes' Fargo studio imprint on mou... > Item Details
Gettysburg Amputee, Private George Warner CDV
Lot # 33 - Gettysburg Amputee, Private George Warner CDV
Albumen portrait of George Warner, with Henry S. Peck, New Haven, Connecticut studio backmark, plus penciled identification on verso. George Warner elisted in Company B, 20th Connecticut Infantry in August 1862 and was severely wounded at Gettysburg on July 3rd, losing both of his arms to amputation... > Item Details
Civil War Chess Board and Accompanying Pieces
Lot # 66 - Civil War Chess Board and Accompanying Pieces
Rare Civil War-era, patriotic chess board bound in fine Moroccan leather with gilt edging and lettering, 14.75 x 15 in. Playing surface consists of a large albumen print featuring identified portraits of Civil War Generals and other military personalities, including a beardless Abraham Lincoln. Deep... > Item Details
Colonel John Singleton Mosby, CSA, ANS
Lot # 351 - Colonel John Singleton Mosby, CSA, ANS
Inked note, 6.0 x 3.5 in., on heavy stock in Mosby's hand: The Alamo, Washington, / March 20th-1914. / Dr. or Mrs. Watson: What has become of you? My friend, Dr. Will Donn wrote me of your/being in quarantine but you must / certainly have been released long ago. / Where is Miss Litchfield? If she / ... > Item Details
13-Star American Naval Jack
Lot # 83 - 13-Star American Naval Jack
Worsted wool, 29 x 52 in., with 13 hand-sewn, double-appliqued, cotton stars configured in 3/2/3/2/3 horizontal rows on canton. The fly consists of 13 hand-sewn stripes. The hoist looks to be cotton and is stamped along the back U.S. Ensign No. 48 / Navy Yard NY / July 1890. Hoist includes... > Item Details
Lincoln Wide Awake Marcher, Possibly from Hartford, Rare CDV
Lot # 149 - Lincoln Wide Awake Marcher, Possibly from Hartford, Rare CDV
Albumen cdv of a Lincoln Wide Awake marcher wearing early-style Wide Awake regalia, indicating that this gentleman could very well be an original Hartford Wide Awake. CDV lacks studio imprint. Carte-de-visite images of parade marchers from 1860 to 1880 are much rarer than tintypes and are at least a... > Item Details
Jefferson Davis Memorial Card
Lot # 91 - Jefferson Davis Memorial Card
Printed memorial card honoring Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, who died on December 6, 1889. Gold printed on black, 4.25 x 6.5 in. Recto feature's Davis' birth and death dates as well as poignant quotes regarding death. Verso includes dedication to Davis. > Item Details
Group of 34-Star American Parade Flags
Lot # 78 - Group of 34-Star American Parade Flags
Lot of 3 glazed cotton, printed parade flags, each with 34 stars configured in 5/6/6/6/6/5 horizontal rows, 7.75 x 10.75 in., each mounted on wooden dowel. Kansas was admitted as the 34th State in 1861. > Item Details
Daguerreotype of Young Man with Colorful Cravat & Pocket Watch
Lot # 116 - Daguerreotype of Young Man with Colorful Cravat & Pocket Watch
Striking daguerreotype, approx. 2.25 x 2.75 in., of a young man wearing a colorful cravat featuring the very rare yellow tint. Only a select few knew the secret of the chemicals needed to achieve this yellow color. The young man also displays a pocket watch for the camera. Uncased. > Item Details
ITEMS 1-20 of 20
SKIP TO PAGE: