Brimstone or sulfur tipped matches/spunks that I made some years ago.
As occasionally happens one gets used to using a certain term or word
to describe an object. Then one day your use of that word is put to question,
& you find yourself clawing through the pages of a dictionary trying to
justify your choice of word. Well this recently happened to me in regards to my
use of the term “spunks”, to denote sulphur tipped matches. After my research I
find myself still a little lost. I can not remember when or where I first heard
this term used, but I have used it ever since. Here then below are the results
of my search, & I leave it up to you to decide which term to use. From what
I can see, the term “match” or “spunk” seem to hold equal sway.
Detail of the altarpiece of the Saint Georges church in Haguenau, Bas-Rhin, France.
In this lower image Joseph is holding flint & tinder in his left hand, & is about to strike downward against the flint with the steel held in his right hand. Below you can see an open wooden tinderbox & some spunks/sulphur headed matches/splints/tapers.
A relic of Sir John Franklin's last expedition 1845-1848. Seven brimstone matches found by Lieutenant W.R. Hobson at an abandoned camp site at Cape Felix, King William Island on 25 May 1859. They were collected by the McClintock Search Expedition 1857-1859. Each match is a flat sliver of wood. Traces of sulphur are visible on the ends of three matches.
Painting by Pieter Claesz 1636.
This wooden box for 'spunks' or sulphur matches dates from the early 19th century. It was turned out on a lathe at Kirkpatrick-Durham in Kirkcudbrightshire.
The box is in the form of a barrel which unscrews two-thirds of the way up. It has the initials R.I. (for Robert Innes) on the bottom.
Sulphur matches or 'spunks' have a long history, and may have been used by the Romans.
1815 “Ye may light a SPUNK o' fire in the red room.”—‘Guy Mannering’
by Sir Walter Scott, xi.
In the morning early, before dawn, the first sounds heard in a small
house were the click, click, click of the kitchen-maid striking flint and steel
over the tinder in the box. When the tinder was ignited, the maid blew upon it
till it glowed sufficiently to enable her to kindle a match made of a bit
of stick dipped in
brimstone [sulphur]. The cover was then returned to the box, and the weight
of the flint and steel pressing it down extinguished the sparks in the carbon.
The operation was not, however, always successful; the tinder or the matches
might be damp, the flint blunt, and the steel worn; or, on a cold, dark
morning, the operator would not infrequently strike her knuckles instead of the
steel; a match, too, might be often long in kindling, and it was not pleasant to
keep blowing into the tinder-box, and on pausing a moment to take breath, to
inhale sulphurous acid gas, and a peculiar odour which the tinder-box always
Sabine Baring-Gould, Strange Survivals, 1892, Devon, England
1843, John Wilson, John Gibson Lockhart, William Maginn, James
Hogg, The Noctes AmbrosianÃ¦ of “Blackwood", Volume IV,
“Spunks "” spunks "” spunks "” who will buy my
spunks?" "” cried
an errant voice with a beseeching earnestness
Funk (“spark, touchwood”) is from Middle English funke, fonke (“spark”), from Old English *funce, *fanca (“spark”), from Proto-Germanic *funkô, *fankô (“spark”), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)peng-, *(s)pheng- (“to shine”), and is akin to Middle Low German funke, fanke (“spark”), Middle Dutch vonke (“spark”), Old High German funcho, funko (“spark”),German Funke (“spark”).
NOUN: A piece of tinder, sometimes impregnated with sulphur; a match.
1530s, "a spark," Scottish, from
Gaelic spong "tinder, pith, sponge," from
The term "spunk" originated in the early 1600's in the
British Isles meaning "a spark," having been adopted from the
Gaelic spong for "tinder," which in turn comes from the
Latin spongia. The Latin appears to be derived from how closely the
popular kindling touchwood resembles natural sponges.
Spunk: A spark of fire or small portion of ignited matter.
Sponk: A word used in Edinburgh which denotes a match or anything
dipped in sulphur that takes fire.
Proceeding Of The Old Bailey. London’s central Criminal Court.
a Betty was found lying near the Door, and some Matches and a
Tinder box was found upon the Prisoner;
Williams lent them a Bag and some Matches,
and a Pistol, several Picklock Keys, and some Matches,
found upon him.
Picklock Keys, and a Tobacco Box, with Tinder
and Matches in it, were found in his Pocket.
with a Chissel, a Dark Lanthorn, and a Bundle of Matches.
Candle and Matches,&c. lying on the Ground.
about him, with a Tinder Box, Flint, Steel, Matches, a Gimblet,
Knife and Pick lock key:
America's 19th-century spunk-faker supposedly sold matches
...the infant at its mother's side too often awoke.....The mother was
soon on her feet; the friendly tinder-box was duly sought. Click, click, click;
not a spark tells upon the sullen blackness. More rapidly does the flint ply
the sympathetic steel. The room is bright with the radiant shower. But the
child....shouts till the mother is frantic. At length one lucky spark does its
office - the tinder is alight. Now for the match. It will not burn.....Another
match, and another, and another. They are all damp. The baby is
inexorable; and the misery is only ended when the goodman has gone to the
street door, and after long shivering has obtained a light from the watchman.
Charles Knight, Once Upon a Time, 1854.
The matches were thin splints of soft wood, sharpened at both ends,
and tipped with sulphur. The street-dealers were the chief match-sellers.
Several matches were spread out, fan-like, into bunches; and according as trade
was bad or good, so were we invited to buy three, four, or more bunches for a penny.
Matches and Match-makers, in Chamber's Journal, 1862.
Tinder, touchwood, as a means of
raising fire from a spark (Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. Gl.),
also in Eng.; later, a sliver of wood dipped in a preparation of sulphur and
used for the same purpose (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 128; s.Sc.
1802 J. Sibbald Chron. Sc. Poetry Gl.). Hist.; in modern usage,
since the mid. 19th-c.: a phosphorous friction match, a lucifer (Per., Fif.,
Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Rxb. 1942 Zai). Gen.Sc.
Also fig.Sc. 1755 S. Johnson Dict.:
Sponk, a word in Edinburgh which denotes a match, or anything dipt in sulphur
that takes fire.Abd. 1794 J. Anderson Peat
The natives where such fir abounds are in the practice of splitting it into
chips, somewhat thicker and larger than those used in the towns
for sponks, and employing these instead of candles for giving
light.Sc. 1822 Scott Pirate vii.:
A gathering peat on the kitchen fire, and a spunk beside
it.Dmf. 1822 Scots Mag. (Sept.)
When ill Rab Duff and me laid brunstane i' the logie, and were ta'en
i' the verra act o' clapping a spunk till't. Ayr. 1830 Galt Lawrie
Todd VI. v.: The puff of passion to which he had put the spunk was
out.Ags. 1853 W.
Blair Aberbrothock 15:
Maister Bell's discoorses are no that ill to mak spunks for bawky
pipes.Mry. 1872 W. H. Tester Poems 143:
Has sworn to tax the little lowes That emanate frae spunks.Abd. 1879 G. MacDonald Sir
The san' paper 'at they hed been lichtin' a thoosan' or twa lucifer spunks upo'.Per. 1881 D.
Kippen Crieff 199:
Spunks were narrow pieces of fir roots about six inches long, with brimstone on
the points, which ignited at the sparks in the
tinder-box.wm.Sc. 1886 Trans. Gael. Soc.
Inv. XII. 394:
The making of these matches, or “spunks” as they were called, gave occupation
in the long evenings to the male part of the family, who split up fine pieces
of fir, and dipped the ends into melted brimstone or sulphur, and thus produced
a rude lucifer match.
(2) A thin slip of wood, a spill used for making spunks as
above; a splinter, smithereen, chip, in gen. (Per. 1915 Wilson L.
Strathearn 268); fig. something of no value. Adj. spunkie, like
a spill.Dmf. 1810 R.
Cromek Remains 148:
The deil sat grim amang the reek, Thrang bundling brunstane matches; Ye'll run
me out o' wun spunks.Sc. 1824 Scott Redgauntlet xvii.:
All broken to pieces; fit for nought but to be made spunks
of.Fif. c.1850 W. D. Latto Twa
Wi' that he leaped among the trunks, An' knocked the luckless box to
spunks.Abd. 1851 W.
Anderson Rhymes 72:
To hear a' his stories they never wad tire, As they sat in a burichie roun' his
spunk fire.Mry. 1887 A. G. Wilken Peter
The bull gaed to the han' barrow an' brak it to spunks.