What should I collect?
This is probably the most difficult question to answer. Zippo lighters come in various finishes, designs, colours and there are also slim versions and table lighters. On top of this there are various other Zippo products (Some still made, others not) that have been produced over the years.
The first Zippo lighter was produced in 1933 (The company itself was formed in 1932, and there are sill numerous references on the net that show this as the date of the first lighter.) and the first models were plain. In 1936, this was given the model number 200, to reflect the price of $2.00. Further models up to 1940 also used the same numbering system, with the polished chrome becoming model 250 ($2.50) and the engine tuned model becoming 350. The model numbers of these 3 lighters remain the same to this day, but of course the price has changed significantly.
In 1934, Zippo also offered lighters which were "Decorated" by the addition of two diagonal lines cut into the corners. The first properly decorated lighters were introduced in 1935. These were in the form of a metal insignia attached to the front of the lighter. Two designs were originally available, "The Drunk" and "The Scotty" which depicted three "Scotty" dogs. At around the same time, Zippo offered a service of having a metal insignia with initials attached to the lighter. These were available in three shapes, square, circular or rectangular. Both types of insignia were available in a choice of 5 colours. This original decoration is known as a metallique.
In 1936, the "metallique" design was used by Kendall Oil Company, who are also based in Bradford PA to place an advertisement on the front of a lighter for marketing purposes. This was the first of many advertising lighters that Zippo have produced.
All the above lighters are extremely rare today and obviously command a high price, so are unlikely to be within reach of the collector who is just starting out.
Trying to split Zippo in genres is almost as difficult as trying to decide what to collect, as many lighters will fit easily into more than one genre. I have however, given some broad genres below.
Possibly the most collected type of Zippo lighter. As stated above, the first advertising Zippo was produced in 1936 for the Kendall Oil Company but since then thousands of other companies around the world have used Zippos as an advertising medium. There are many collectors who collect any advertising lighter and as many again who collect by subject. If you have already had a look around this site you may have noticed that I personally collect railroad lighters. I do however also collect general advertising lighters, particularly those, with what I consider to have attractive logos. It should be remembered that many of the companies who advertised on lighters in the 1940's, 50's and 60's are no longer in existence, so advertising lighters can also be looked upon as a piece of social history.
Advertising lighters can easily be 'themed' to fit into your other interests, such as my Railroad collection. Many tobacco companies have had Zippo's produced, but there are Zippo's from almost every type of company, Insurance, building, cranes, cars, shipping lines to name but a few. Another idea is to collect lighters from a particular, town, county or state. I personally am at the moment trying to collect an advertiser from each state of the USA.
Military lighters are very popular with collectors and again can be split into numerous sub categories. Ships, regiments, WW2 and Viet Nam to pick a few. Most US, Canadian, British and French navy ships have commissioned Zippo lighters for sale to crew members at one time or another, frequently in different finishes or designs. The same goes for military regiments, you can often find the regimental crest on a Zippo and perhaps one with the same crest and wording describing a particular event in the regimental history. Viet Nam lighters are slightly different. Many military personnel who served in Viet Nam bought plain Zippo's and had them engraved by local engravers, or indeed engraved them themselves, using whatever tools were available, often with their names, regiments, or sentiments and frequently with particular place names. When the US withdrew from Viet Nam much equipment was left behind and this included stocks of plain Zippo's. With the rise in collecting many of these original Zippo's have since been engraved with maps, place names and even the names of fallen soldiers and are now passed off as "Genuine Viet Nam Zippo's" Trying to establish whether a Zippo has ever seen active service in Viet Nam is difficult, even for the seasoned collector. Many of these lighters have been artificially "aged" by the use of acids, blowtorches and even being buried for periods. As well as the genuine Zippo's that have been engraved much later, there are also a lot of Viet Nam Zippo's that are actual fakes, i.e.. they have been made in the far East and often carry similar bottom stamps to the genuine article. For more on fake Zippo's (Known as Rippos!) visit http://www.diablo944.co.uk/new_page_1.htm
Many events and anniversaries have had souvenir Zippo's produced, some of these are produced by Zippo themselves and included in the annual catalogue, others are special orders for sale at the actual event. Many of these are made in strictly limited quantities, often as few as 50, and can be highly sought after. Some of the most well know examples are those produced by Zippo for the Zippo Swap Meets in Bradford.
Zippo themselves produce various series lighters, some long running designs and some for a limited time span. Examples include most of the major US sports teams, Hockey, Football, Baseball etc, Camel, Lucky Strike, Anheuser-Busch, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, Ford, Chevy, Brickyard & Formula One are just some examples. These can change from year to year, as logos are altered, and new designs added and old ones removed. It will be noted that Marlboro do not appear in the list above, as Marlboro branded Zippo's were only available direct from Marlboro, and not from the Zippo catalogue (So I personally would categorise them in the advertising section).
Each year Zippo produce a number of special edition lighters, some go on general sale, whilst others are made in strictly limited quantities. From 1992 to 2002 Zippo produced a "Collectible Of The Year". These are highly sought by collectors. Many of these are still easily available at reasonable prices, but as new collectors come along, they will become more scarce. One example of the general sale lighters is the Wright Brothers series. Zippo produced three lighters in this series, two for general distribution and the third a limited edition of 7500. All three of these lighters can be seen in the events section of this website
Zippo have produced a number of different table lighters over the years, which again can be found in both plain and decorated versions. The first table lighters were introduced in around 1938 and were given the name "Barcroft" This particular model was 4½ inches high and had a single stepped base. These models are commonly referred to as either "one step" or Model 1. This particular model was available until the outbreak of the second world war when production was halted. Following the war Zippo re-introduced the Barcroft in 1947, but this model had two steps to the base and was ¼ inch shorter than the previous model. This model was produced until around 1950, when the even smaller (3¼ inch) model 3 was introduced. All these 3 models had a much larger insert than the normal sized Zippo lighter. Around 1954, Zippo produced the model 4, which was similar in appearance to the model 3, but carried a standard sized insert. This final model was available until 1979 after which it was discontinued.
During the time Zippo was producing the Barcroft series, they also manufactured a number of other table lighters. The Lady Bradford was manufactured from 1949 to around 1953, the Modern from 1960 to 1966, the Corinthian, again from 1960 to 1966, the Handilite from 1979 to 2002, which was a standard lighter with an attached base, and the Lady Barbara, which was introduced as part of Zippo's 65th anniversary in 1997 and discontinued in 2002. As well as the above, a company called Roseart also produce table lighters using Zippo inserts. This company is located in Bradford PA and has been producing Zippo table lighters since around 1958. They are the only form of Zippo table lighter currently in production.
The Zippo "Contempo" was a series of Butane lighters made under licence in Japan in the 1980's. A 1989 catalogue shows 18 different models available, but some of the models were known to be available in different coloured lacquered finishes. These are not often seen for sale, and tend to reach quite a high price, compared to other butane lighters of the period. More information can be found here
Over the years, Zippo have produced many lighters incorporating their own logos and insignia. Some of these are quite plain, with just the word Zippo or a flame picture, others more elaborate. Some early Zippo advertising has been reproduced on the front of lighters and the Zippo Car lighters could also fall into this category.
Other Zippo Items
Over the years Zippo have expanded their portfolio, by making (or sometimes having produced under licence) various other items These include Knives, Key rings, in various styles, Tape measures, pill boxes, pens, Letter openers, golf balls, greenskeepers and money clips. As with the lighters, these items have been used as corporate gifts and sales items so can be found in both plain and decorated versions. It can add interest to any collection by having, for example, a knife, lighter and tape measure with the same corporate logos.
Catalogues, Advertising & Display material
Zippo produce an annual catalogue, but also produce posters, flyers, and specific material for dealer displays. This is all collectable in it's own right, but is usually scarcer than the actual lighters. Having the back-up material to a series of lighters can add considerable interest to your collection.
This page was designed to give you some ideas, but is in no way complete. You might decide to follow a completely different line in collecting Zippo lighters. One of the best things about this hobby, is that everyone if different and we all have different ideas as to what to collect. There are a number of occasions where I have bought a job lot of lighters, because there were one or two that I wanted for my collection, but on seeing the others have decided to add another section to my collection. The only thing I can say, is it doesn't matter what you collect, as long as you enjoy you collection.
If you have managed to read all the way to here, it is obvious that you have some interest in collecting Zippo lighters, and you want to learn about the product. My pages here can only give you a small overview. There are apparently over 4 million Zippo collectors in the world, and what you have read here is only a small amount of the information available.
Much of the knowledge that I have has been gained from questions raised in the Zippo Click forums. Zippo Click is the official collectors club for Zippo collectors and is run by Zippo themselves. Joining Click was one of the best things I did and having access to the wealth of knowledge in the forums is worth the membership fee alone. If you want to gain access to this massive database of knowledge click here for details