Colibri is a company that makes a range of 'personal products' of the gewgaw type, but they started out making what they're still best known for - lighters. The founder was a man named Julius Lowenthal. Born in Frankfurt, Germany, he started a firm with his brother to manufacture lighters in Germany after the First World War. He set out to build the world's first 'semiautomatic lighter' - a cigar or cigarette lighter which did not require the user's thumb to contact the flint wheel (unlike the classic American Zippo or the cheap Bic and Cricket disposables that would follow). He was successful, with the Swiss-manufactured Colibri Original, and received a patent for the concept in the early 1930s.

In 1933, he moved the company to London, where it was renamed Colibri. Through the Second World War, Colibri focused on manufacturing cheap and reliable lighters for the soldiers of the Allies. After the war, they moved easily in the glitzy age of the 1950s, where smoking was glamorous and everyone seemed to have the money to buy a good lighter. They continued in this vein for many years, pioneering several recognizable bits of lighter technology along the way. Back in the interwar period, they'd done some of the first work with butane lighters; in 1961, they invented a piezoelectric ignition system for lighters. Due to engineering difficulties, that didn't hit the market until 1967, in a model named the 'Molectric.'

in 1974, they had probably their most recognizable lighter ever - in that year, James Bond went up against The Man With The Golden Gun. The latter, played by a the apparently-indefatigable Christopher Lee, used the signature weapon of the film's title. Not only was his gun golden, but it was modular! It was constructed from (and could be assembled in the field from) a cigarette lighter, a pen, some cufflinks and so forth (all gold) - and the lighter was the Molectric II, a golden Colibri product.

The company moved to New York City and continues to make lighters. It has upon occasion spun out into pens, jewelry, flasks, and various other gadgets but it's lighters which the company is still known for. If you'd like to know what's available, check them out at

The author has had many Colibri lighters - although it must be admitted fewer since they decided to revoke their 'lifetime guarantee' a decade or so ago. What were once really well-built bits of personal kit have, as so many things have, devolved into fairly cheap plastic-interiored toys ('laser-activated' my behind). It's sad, really, but what can you do - and given the body blow the smoking industry has taken over the past twenty years in the US and even in the UK, they're going to have to figure out how to deal with it.

(IN 5 29/30)

Colibrí is the Spanish and the Portuguese word for hummingbird.

Colibri is also the Latin name (no accent mark required for the Latin) for a genus of hummingbirds named in 1824 by German biologist Johann Baptist Ritter von Spix.

The common name for this genus is the violetears (sometimes hyphenated, thus: violet-ears)

Violetears species include:

  • Colibri thalassinus (Mexican violetear)
  • Colibri cyanotus (Lesser violetear)
  • Colibri coruscans (Sparkling violetear)
  • Colibri serrirostris (White-vented violetear)
  • Colibri delphinae (Brown violetear)

Note: Webster 1913 shows the genus of Violet-ear as Petasophora. This is probably a case of common names being applied to more than one species. I'm not an ornithologist, but I was unable to find any modern references to the genus Petasophora.

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