Ode To An Old Flame

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Ah, the smooth sleekness. The classic beauty. That timeless sound you make.

Ain't Zippo lighters neat?

BRADFORD, Pa. – Derrick Stainton can't stop talking about his old flames. He's got more than 1,000 of them at home in Scotland. "My daughter thinks I'm crazy," the 54-year-old welder said. The objects of his affection: Zippo lighters, 1,056 of them to be exact. And he's not alone in his hobby.

Thousands of fellow fans, dealers and curiosity-seekers are gathering this weekend here to celebrate the shiny, rectangular windproof lighters that flick open with a distinctive clicking sound.

"So simple. So basic. The design is so nice," Stainton said. "I eat, sleep and drink Zippos."

Fanatics congregate at Zippo Manufacturing Co. headquarters in this northwest Pennsylvania city every other year for an international "swap meet."

They stroll around under huge tents to look at seemingly endless number of display cases in search of a must-have Zippo and trade stories with other enthusiasts. The meet is held in conjunction with a similar gathering for collectors of W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co. knives, which is owned by Zippo.

It's the lighters that grab the spotlight.

There are thousands of different designs on Zippos: Team logos, travel scenes, landscapes, band names, military designs or nudes. They are all on a lighter that measures 2 1/4 inches tall by 1 1/2 inches wide and weighs about 2 ounces.

A plain Zippo lighter costs about $15, but many designer ones have price tags of at least several hundred dollars.

For many fans, the connection gets personal. They can recount stories about how they got their first lighter and where they have traveled with it. But not every enthusiast is a smoker.

"We only collect lighters," said Gerard Klvivingh, 48, of the Netherlands, who has about 500 in his collection. "It's the handcrafting, that's what I like about it. You don't have to smoke."

There are collectors for everything, aren't there?

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