Bryant & May ‘Pearl’ safety matches, London, England, 1890-1940

1890-1940 in Bow
Bryant and May Limited

Buy this image as a print 

License this image for commercial use at Science and Society Picture Library

From the top, 1st and 3rd box - A655224, Two chipboard matchboxes containing "Flaming Fusee" Vesuvian matches for cigar
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Matchbox, chipboard and paper originally holding "Pearl" safety matches by Bryant and May's, Fairfield Works, Bow, London, converted into novelty box, with spring operated well, English, 1890-1940

Match-making was a particularly dangerous job in the 1800s. Workers – mainly women – employed by companies such as Bryant & May to make matches commonly experienced a condition known as phossy jaw. This was caused by poisoning from the yellow phosphorous used in the head of the match.

Phossy jaw was a terribly disfiguring and sometimes fatal condition. Eventually, a combination of this health danger, poor pay and long hours led to the formation of a trade union for the workers. The Match Girls Strike of 1888, led by social activist Annie Besant (1847-1933), was a landmark industrial action and led to better pay. In 1901, Bryant & May finally stopped using yellow phosphorous in their matches.

Related people


Object Number:
cardboard, metal, spring, paper, phosphorus, pine, wood, chipboard
match box
  • furnishing and equipment
  • container - receptacle
  • storage box
Loan: Wellcome Trust

Cite this page


We encourage the use and reuse of our collection data.

Data in the title, made, maker and details fields are released under Creative Commons Zero

Descriptions and all other text content are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence

Using our data


Download catalogue entry as json

Download manifest IIIF

Our records are constantly being enhanced and improved, but please note that we cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information shown on this website.