Spill Vase, Charles Edwards, London, England, c. 1909, Silver, Bequest of Judge John Green and Ellen McClung Green, 1957.3.621.1-.6.
A spill vase is a small, cylindrical, free-standing or wall-hanging vase used in Victorian homes to contain “spill” for transferring fire. For example, to light an unlit candle, lamp or cigar from an already lighted fire. Typically these vases were kept on a mantelpiece and filled with very thin wooden sticks (“spills”). Commercial matches, which first surfaced in England in the 1820s, remained relatively expensive until the later half of the 19th century, making the spill a more economical choice. The development and spread of electricity in the 19th and 20th centuries, however, gradually made spill vases inessential as people relied less on fire for lighting.