Hand Engraved

The Vietnamese engraver, a regular of girlie bars, would have a stand at the corner of the room. A device like a dentist tool and an old GMC battery constituted his improvised workshop. The soldier chose from a catalogue the text and the design that was the most appropriate according to his feeling or state of mind. In a few minutes, the engraver did a bad quality job for only 25 cents by hand on the face. The quality depended on how steady his hand was and how good an eye the engraver possessed.

In this category there are nice engraved lighters but the majority is bad. It is also this kind of engraving actually done in some workshops in South Vietnam where young ladies, around the clock, engrave stainless steel lighters from China.

Hand engraved

The P.X. in Saigon had real Zippo's. They were sold in the P.X with unit markings and names but no sex, slang, drunk or drug engravings on them. These were all done by hand in the villages near the U.S bases.

Machine Engraved

The Vietnamese craftsmen operate in the vicinity of the military bases in Vietnam. The mechanical process was done with a pantograph mounted on a working table whose top part was constituted by a vice to tighten the lighter and a template support. Those templates were made of brass or wood, the size was superior to definitive engraving. A finger connected to the pantograph followed the template contours and the tool at the top of the pantograph engraved the lighter. It was possible to engrave the same pattern at different scales. The texts were composed letter by letter or if chosen from the catalogue, already attached into the template. There were probably 200 different designs and more than hundred texts.

Engraving done with the pentograph at the mini position

The engravers had many of the same templates that were sold to them by the Hermes engraving folks (Vietnam distributors). A color plate with snoopy on his doghouse, the cyclo all the US insignia and many naked women was proposed to choose the correct design.

The most popular seems to be " Yeah though I walk through the valley..." whom an extremely rare variant exist " Yeah though I fly through the valley..." It is a take off of the 23rd Psalm.

The next most popular is Freedom, "For those who fought for it freedom..." along with a few others like " When I die bury me face down…." and the famous "Death is our Business and Business has been good". If you were out in the jungle you could see that particular saying on soldier's helmet.

Pantograph machine used during the war and color plate supplied by Hermes Cie.

The engraving looks like as if done by hand because the machine had a lot of clearance and templates were used. It is the kind of engraving on totally counterfeit zippos than you can buy today in Saigon (sidewalk vendors).

Engraved zippos in other countries

Soldiers spent their days off (R & R) on the beach of China Beach or Vung Tau but sometimes went to Thailand, Philippine or Japan. The P.X. was effective in American bases of Japan and Philippines and Japanese artist engraved Zippos. Mainly sterling silver decorated with tigers or dragons, but also some authentic Zippos with Vietnam War poetry engraved on it. Of course they are very good quality copies and impossible to detect because the lighters and dates are correct and the job was commissioned by soldiers.

Sterling Silver lighter engraved in Japan

The jewellers from Bangkok often did silver lighters for a major command. These lighters were made from an embossed sterling silver sheet decorated with tigers, elephants but also with army insignia. On the back of the lighter there is the jeweller's address.

Thailand Sterling Silver lighter bring home as souvenir

The Japanese industry built Vulcan or Penguin windproof lighters and acid etched the design of the American or Australian war ships. Those lighters were made on a minimum special order of 100 and only for one dollar each including shipping.


Penguin lighter at the left and Zippo lighter

Germany Engraved

Between 1963 and 1975 a German engraver has done this engraving for US occupation troops. It is the continuation of Viet-Nam tradition. If you have this kind of lighter, I will be happy if you could send me a picture.


Cut away Chimneys

The authentic lighters sometimes their chimney cut away. Those cuts were done to light the opium pipes easily. During the last years of the war, many American GI's became bored at the lack of "Action" and turned to drug to relieve the boredom.

Disabused by too much horror, too many comrades injured or killed in frightful conditions, destabilized in their judgement by this war that they refused many turned to alcohol or drug.

What will be the future? Are they going to leave this country alive?

Some others, rocked by Jimi Hendrix music , used their lighters to warm heroine dose.


Two lighters with cut chimney

Stik ons Zippos

A Zippo that has a Vietnam emblem is the easiest counterfeit to fabricate. As the WWII, genuine Vietnam Zippos with stick on exist. In addition to the insignias proposed by Zippo Bradford on his catalogue, soldiers have glued on their lighters unit, boat and military insignias. It is in this category that you found more counterfeit Zippos. It is easier to weld an insignia than to draw a design without pantograph. The lighter are often distressed by blowlamp to mask the welding process. The emblem will protect the case finish directly around its perimeter, so a used lighter will tend to have a zone of unblemished chrome around the emblem. This old patina need time so the Vietnamese have no time and distress the lighter.

Genuine 101st Airborn Zippo, the lighters at the right are newly distressed

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