Zippo’s Lady Barbara

Article submitted by Michael Grimaldi

As a Zippo collector, I have always been a fan of the different table models offered by the company over the years. From the chunky Barcrofts, to the elegant Lady Bradford and the stylish Moderne and Corinthian, I collected examples of them all. Heck, I will even admit to picking up a few Handilites along the way too, although they were my least favorite. So one can imagine my excitement in early 1997 when I read on page 1 of the latest Zippo catalog, that a brand new table model was to be released later that year, the Lady Barbara.

The mid-1990’s was an exciting time to be a Zippo collector. Then company president, Jim Baldo had a vision to make Zippo lighters collectible. Under his direction, the company embraced its collector market and produced catalogs filled with new designs geared towards the collector over the average user. The highlight of these catalogs being the “Collectible of the Year” which was a special piece offered for that year only, often having to do with a particular theme or event of the time.

1997 marked the company’s 65th anniversary and that summer Zippo celebrated it in a big way by cutting the ribbon on the newly constructed, from the ground up, Zippo/Case Visitors Center and Museum, which today still attracts thousands of visitors annually. The International Zippo/Case Swap Meet saw its largest turnout to date with hundreds of collectors gathering from around the world. Rumors swirled about a replica Zippo “car” being built and the catalog featured a handful of anniversary pieces, including the above mentioned, Model 124 Lady Barbara table lighter ($72.95) and a companion ashtray.

 

The Lady Barbara was a beautifully sculpted, brush-finished pewter base that held an antiqued silver finish Zippo lighter. The bottom of the base is covered with a black felt pad featuring a Zippo “script” logo and “Bradford, PA USA” in silver foil. Although smaller in size and easily held in ones hand, its design was clearly inspired by the Lady Bradford model of 1949-1951. It is assumed by this writer that the piece was named for Barbara Wick Kearney, granddaughter of Mr. Blaisdell, company founder.

The Model 124 Lady Barbara featured a 65th anniversary logo emblem attached to the front of the base and a matching etched logo on the front of the removable lighter. This limited edition was only available in 1997 and came packaged in a gift box with anniversary graphics.

In 1998, the Model 129 Lady Barbara ($65.95) was introduced into the catalog. It was the exact same piece less the anniversary logos. This undecorated version was cataloged through 2001, when it was discontinued along with the Handilite line.

A smaller version of the Lady Barbara was offered as a promotion for Camel cigarettes in 1997. While the width was the same, the base was .75” shorter than the original. Like the anniversary edition, this one featured a Camel logo emblem attached to the base and a matching etched logo on the front of a Midnight Chrome finish lighter.

Now for the fun fact, did you know that the Lady Barbara was not the only design considered for a new table lighter in 1997? Actually, there was at least one more. This deco style, stepped design gets its influence directly from the earliest gift box packaging used for Zippo lighters in the 1930s. Before “Windy” debuted in December of 1937, this design was used along with the company’s slogan of, “A weeks trial then all the while.”

In concept, it is exactly the same as the Lady Barbara. A lighter base made of pewter with an antiqued silver color that can accommodate a regular sized Zippo lighter. It even has a similar black felt pad on the bottom. This base was never paired with a particular lighter, but I think the reverse-etched Model 994 pairs nicely with it.

This is a genuine Zippo Manufacturing prototype acquired from a former employee and, as with most prototypes, it is not a one of a kind, but I believe very few are in existence. I would imagine the company archives still has one. I saw one come up for sale on ebay once and years ago I had heard of another collector who had one, I don’t even remember who. So that is at least four.

The base of this one is kind of wide. It really does not fit ones hand as well as the Lady Barbara does, which is probably why it was rejected. Still, it is a very attractive display piece and one that is seldom seen or known about.

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