In 2012, an American artist named Bradford Edwards put up a very unique collection for auction at Cowan’s Auctions Inc., which was sold for $35,250 on July 21. The collection was that of Zippo lighters featuring personalized engravings of words and pictures chosen by US soldiers, sailors, and airmen when they were deployed to Vietnam. Edwards collected the lighters during the 1990s on site in Vietnam. He named his collection I’m not a Zippo collector; I’m not somebody into the Zippo, per se, and believes that the lighters are an insight into the minds of the men who owned them. They also became an inspiration to and media in his art. Here are the pictures of some of those engraved Zippo lighters that so fascinated Edwards.
1. Founded in 1932 by George G. Blaisdell, the Zippo Manufacturing Company’s metal reusable lighters are often considered “a legendary and distinct symbol of Americana.”
2. Because of their large windscreen and adequate fuel delivery, the lighters stay lit even in harsh weather and gained popularity as “windproof.”
3. According to Bradford Edwards, the lighters served as more than just a means for lighting cigarettes. The soldiers would carry them around when they went on missions and use them to heat food, read letters from home, or setting huts on fire.
4. The lighters were used so much during search-and-destroy missions that the soldiers often called those missions “Zippo Missions” or “Zippo Raids.”
5. According to Private First Class Reginald Edwards, “when you say level a village, you don’t use torches. It’s not like in the 1800s. You used a Zippo. Now you would use a Bic. That’s just the way we did it. You went in there with your Zippos. Everybody. That’s why people bought Zippos. Everybody had a Zippo. It was for burnin’ sh*t down.”
6. The phrase “Zippo squad” became such part of American military jargon for being assigned to burn down a village that the M132 Armored Flamethrower was nicknamed “Zippo.”
7. So, it stands to reason that the soldiers liked to personalize their lighters so much.
8. The soldiers would buy the Zippo lighters for $1.80 at the post exchange store, and they could get it engraved with a stock design from a wide selection or a message of their own at sidewalk tents.
9. Most of the messages engraved on the lighters mirror the attitudes of Americans and the world towards the war in Vietnam at that time. While some are simply humorously rhyming lines.
10. Some of the lighters feature proud emblems and words of the soldiers who are proud to be fighting in the war and the glory associated with it.
11. There are also lighters that feature the messages of reluctant, unwilling soldiers who were fighting because they had no choice.
12. Some have signs of peace, psychedelic designs, and even funny cartoon characters, Charles Schulz’s Peanuts being the most popular choice, especially Snoopy who fought against the Red Baron.
13. Some were philosophical and pondered the meaning of life and death, while others dealt with the most popular subjects of that time among young people: sex and drugs.
14. Playboy logos, nude women motifs, and Zig-Zag man were a few other choices for engravings.
15. Quite a few lighters feature dedications to their mothers, lovers, or loved ones, or sentimental messages about wanting to get home alive to their family.
16. The Vietnam War exacted over a million in casualties, at least half of which were that of civilians.
17. In the 1970s, the increasing unpopularity of war started a large anti-Vietnam War movement in the Western world.
18. The US began to withdraw its forces and by August 15, 1973, its direct military involvement was ended.
19. The Vietnam War changed the dynamics between the Eastern and Western Blocs of Cold War Era and as well as between the Global North and Global South of the world.
20. The war ended on April 30, 1975, with the fall of Saigon and the victory of North Vietnam. It was followed by the reunification of North and South Vietnams into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.