RONSON & THE BLACK BIRD

(For those who have not yet watched the Huston directed film, you can, if you’re a fan of the Chipmunks, watch The Maltese Falcon in exactly 7 minutes HERE.)

The Maltese Falcon is perhaps Hammett’s most famous novel. The Library of America has a couple of volumes collecting Hammett’s work, one with his short fiction, and one with the novels (which contains The Maltese Falcon).

For a century (that’s pulp-fiction jargon for $100) Haunted Studios will provide you with a replica of the famous black bird itself. You can even get it wrapped in newspaper and stuffed in a sack, just as it was when Captain Jacobi took it off the La Paloma and delivered it to Spade’s office.The above image of the Ronson building is found HERE.
Sam Spade’s lighter model below. You can view a touch-tip in action HERE.

I captured the frame still below from the film, “Mr. Wong In Chinatown”. You can see the standing character using a Streamline Ronson touch-tip to light Mr. Wong’s cigarette.20120627-041746.jpg

The Ronson touch-tip is just one more vintage item of which, if the means were present, I’d collect various examples. If you’re interested in seeing many more very cool Ronson designs (and where I borrowed the photo of the Streamline and the Watch touch-tip), here are a few links:

http://transporter.tripod.com/TT.html

http://www.vintageronsonlighters.com/Home_Page.php

A paperback edition, and the Black Mask magazine in which the story originally appeared.

Typed on c.1938 Underwood Champion

38 thoughts on “RONSON & THE BLACK BIRD

  1. Last time I saw the Maltese Falcon, and every other time, I have this “what the…?” going around my head. It is to do with that lighter. Was it a match? Was it a trick? And now I know! Thanks.

  2. I like you, pal. Another great post! Beautiful lighter. And Hammett was a genius of the art form. With Chandler a very close second. Now I gotta get me a Maltese Falcon. Didn’t know they were still available.

    • I think Hammett wrote better stories, but I preferred Chandler’s colorful writing style. With Chandler, I think I just like how he sets a mood. I’m visually oriented, and so if an author can set the mood with words, it gets my imagination going. Thanks again for visiting!

      • Somebody once wrote that Chandler “made words dance”.
        That description fits like an old lady’s Opera glove.

      • Try a pipe. They’re more fun, and not really unhealthy if you exercise moderation (I’ve never smoked cigarettes or cigars. I only picked up the pipe as a hobby, and I only have a pipe about once a week). The aromatics also smell nice enough that your wife may actually enjoy the fragrance.

  3. Ahh, the Ronson Touch-Tip. I just went through a lust phase for one of those last month after re-watching (and re-reading) the Maltese Falcon. Unfortunately, the examples on eBay were way out of my price range. I do have the 1949 QDL, though (and a 1948 one in black/grey). I guess I’ll keep looking (:

      • Yep, just checked again this morning and saw a wonderful Touch-tip in black & silver with the cigarette drawers on either side, $444 “buy it now”. And that was the most reasonable one. 😛

      • Well, like vintage typewriters, these will be snatched up by collectors and become rarer and more expensive. But I’m sure you can find a deal eventually. Just be patient and keep looking.

  4. Nice write up on Ronson touch-tips. I have a group page on facebook called Ronson Touch-Tip Lighters. I have been collecting Ronson for 3 yrs. now when I accidently found a you tube video of on in action and had to have one.

    • Yeah, they’re pretty cool, aren’t they? I only own one right now, and I probably won’t be getting any more. I’m happy being able to own a nice specimen to actually be able to handle and show others. Enjoy the collecting!

  5. I happen to own the actual Ronson touch tip in the Maltese Falcon. I read about the sale of the falcon statue for $4 million, and found your blog while doing some research. Very interesting background on the Ronsons you compiled here. Thanks!

      • Nothing too exciting. My father-in-law received it as a gift in the early 80’s from a friend who bought it in an auction. He gave it to my wife and I shortly after we were married in 98.

      • So is it the actual prop from the film, or is it just the identical model? I suspect the actual item would be worth quite a bit and held by a collector; not really the kind of thing one would give away as a gift. (I’m just curious if there’s any way to authenticate that it was the actual prop from the film)

      • It’s the actual prop. The prop ID# is etched on the bottom. I’ve sent the info to the same auction house who sold the falcon statue and they are attempting to verify.

      • Wow, how fortunate to have that. That’s something to hold on to. Please leave me a comment and let me know what response you receive from the auction house.

        So is it in good condition? Do you have any history of its whereabouts prior to your father-in-law acquiring it? I think it’s pretty fascinating tracking the history of this stuff.

  6. Send me your email address & I’ll forward you a picture. It seems to work fine. I’ve depressed the mechanism that generates a spark, and it does. Pretty cool. I know it’s got a lot of intrinsic value, but if I’m told it can go at some ridiculous price, I think I’ll become a seller.

    • That model of lighter goes for around $400-$700 or so (it’s been a while since I’ve following the sales, so the prices may be off somewhat), depending on the condition. However, if that’s the actual one from the film, I suspect it would fetch quite a lot of money if you have it sold by a reputable auction house.

      You can email me at StreamlinesDeLuxe@gmail.com

    • I might be wrong, but I suspect it’s something like Bull Durham. You can still find old, unused samples of those online (but don’t smoke it! Anything that old will probably be disgusting.) I have a tattered, unused bag of it myself.

  7. I received a touch tip last Christmas it was a nice surprise. Seen it in the Maltese falcon mentioned it was interesting . I must say that it is a thing of beauty and l enjoy using it . I smoke cigars

  8. It’s funny how much this particular movie has lead me down so many rabbit holes of research. I saw the movie for the first time long before the internet was a thing. That’s when my research started with the phrase “Six, two and even they’re selling you out sonny.” What did it mean?! I could go on for hours about the hours I spent researching the vernacular. Thanks to Humphrey Bogart for that. The phrase does not appear in the text. Thanks to Dashiell Hammett for teaching me where Malta is and what a Webley-Fosbery automatic is. Thanks to YouTube I know how it works. Praise to John Huston and Western Electric for providing me with a years-long hobby of restoring old phones. Spade has a 202 desk set variant on his desk. Thanks to this blog, a missing piece has been accidentally identified…I was recently doing research on Royal typewriter restoration and the algorythmic tide brought me here. I now know what a Ronson Touch Tip is.
    Good stuff!

  9. Has anyone else noticed that Mary Astor also appears to have a Touch Tip lighter in her apartment/room in the movie at 31:47? It’s not shown from a great angle so it’s hard to tell if they just reused the watch model from Bogart’s office or if it’s a different one. It appears to be black so it could be the octet or another variant without the watch (much cheaper to buy as they are in less demand than the one on Sam’s desk, but still $250-350 on line on average in working order). I never see this scene mentioned and it would be nice to know for sure what was used there as it might be an alternative to the watch model for a Maltese Falcon exhibit (e.g. I have prop replicas on shelves under their movie posters in the back of my home theater room like a little museum and I have just enough room under the Maltese Falcon poster for a Touch Tip to go next to the Falcon itself. But it would have to be a model from the movie or what’s the point?

      • Yeah, I found three boxes that are “similar” to the one she opens. But if you look carefully, hers is relatively square, one-sided only (not in the middle of two boxes as far as I can tell by the position of the lighter itself) and it has an even zig-zag (no “square” spot in the middle that features a chrome handle on some versions). I couldn’t find an image of an exact match online, but I’ve read there were quite a few variations. I’d love to get a clock model for my Maltese Falcon display in my home theater room, but the only one I could find available right now has an asking price of 1000 pounds in non-working condition (a bit steep even with a good exchange rate right now). Sadly, one in similar condition auctioned in early July on eBay for under $200. I would have gone higher even if it couldn’t be fixed for a reasonable price just to use in my display. Sadly, I didn’t think about looking for one until two weeks later when I watched the movie again and got to wondering about that lighter again (I only started a movie props theme to my home theater rebuild in the past year).

  10. They pop up occasionally on ebay and such, and the prices fluctuate a lot depending on condition. You can find them for a couple hundred bucks if you’re not too concerned with condition, but you have to be patient.

    There are two different styles of those clock lighters that look similar to the one in the film, so if you want one like in the film, make sure you pay attention to the size of the face. The one in the film has the smaller clock face with the larger white circle around it. I believe there’s a similar model where the clock face is almost as large as the white circle, but that’s not the one you want.

  11. There’s also another Touch Tip (Octette as far as I can tell) that appears in the movie Conflict, which also features Sydney Greenstreet as well as Bogart. I’m sure the tray/box Touch Tip in Mary Astor’s apartment was also a dark colored Octette as all the tray/box ones are. I haven’t had any luck obtaining a watch/clock Touch Tip, but I did acquire a black Octette in what looks like never used condition I can now display in my ’30s movie display area alongside lighters from Bullets or Ballots (that movie featured a Ronson Twentycase and a New Yorker Baronet, the latter of which was also featured in The Maltese Falcon in Gutman’s apartment. Bogart uses it in both movies. Edward G. Robinson uses the Twentycase when he’s offered a cigarette. The Baronet is much harder to find in good condition than even the Sam Spade Touch Tip with the white clock. I did find a matching Twentycase, however (along with matching Ten-A-Case and Mastercase design versions of the same graphic pattern, which are neat to compare).

    The black Octette I obtained is a one-of-a-kind given during WWII from the big shots at the British Power company to one of its employees (important enough that it has over a dozen signatures on the chrome bass and a silver plate underneath that was added) for this guy’s wedding in 1941. I don’t think it was ever used (It appears to be in like new condition and clean). At least two of the people whose signatures are engraved on it went on to British parliament so it’s not only a model featured in at least two movies, but a bit of a WWII British artifact of sorts as well with those historical signatures engraved on it (oddly coming to America now as it were). Frankly, given its almost like new condition and the history aspect, I think I got it for quite a deal (34 others were watching it and I had to pre-bid as I couldn’t watch the actual auction unfold. Imagine my surprise when I was informed I won the auction (for a fair bit less than my maximum bid). I would have bid over twice that much for a Maltese Falcon replica lighter with the clock in good condition, though. I missed out on a rather scroungy one awhile back as my phone crapped itself at the last minute before I could get my bid in. I was hoping for one in better condition anyway, but it’s a long wait between listings some times.

    I’d trade the historical WWII Touch Tip for that real prop Touch Tip from The Maltese Falcon Dan O’Brien has, though. 😉

  12. I finally obtained a Maltese Falcon style Ronson Touch Tip with white watch/clock in more or less mint condition. It ran me over $800 shipped, though ($736 + tax and shipping) a few months ago in an auction. The clock works and the chrome is like new on top except for a couple of tiny pin points. It looks like it was lit only a few times since 1936 (original wand with only a couple of light black marks with a wick that looks like it used only a few times as it’s mostly white even at the tip). It’s now sitting next to my “OZ” Maltese Falcon statue under the movie poster in the back of my home theater.

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