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Got a Light?

An Inside Look at Pearl Tolliver-Shaw’s Wondrous Lighter Collection

by Max Miller

Staff Writer


“Got a light?” It’s a sentence frequently uttered on this campus, no matter the time, location, or weather. If you haven’t been asked it, you’ve at least heard it being asked, casually at times and desperately at others; I imagine some readers have been that desperate asker in a time of need. It is possible that you have asked Pearl Tolliver-Shaw to help light your cigarette. If so, you have been lucky enough to borrow one of her many elaborate lighters, even if only for a fleeting moment.

Pearl first agreed to give me a sneak peek into her lighter collection around October with the condition that she first bring back some of her favorite lighters from her home in Brooklyn, New York. After four-ish months, we finally met up to discuss her famed collection.

Last Tuesday, Pearl led me into her room in Keep excitedly, moving a drying paint-by-numbers off of a chair so that I could sit comfortably. The walls were artfully decorated with an Aubrey Plaza baseball card, a maroon Oberlin College Lanes t-shirt, and a poster advertising the aptly-named Pearl Lager Beer, among other funky little knick knacks Pearl seemed to have garnered in one place or another.

Photo by Max Miller

She began gathering lighters from various locations in her room, seemingly procuring them from thin air. Once she had exhausted hiding places, Pearl began lovingly placing them on her gray shag rug, telling me about the history of her collection. She told me that she, “had more at home but had to force myself to only bring one bag of them.”

When asked about her ideal lighter, Pearl said, “I really want one that’s a joint holder with either Aubrey Plaza’s face on it or Megan Fox’s face on it. I would actually love a lighter that has a case that has Megan Fox in Jennifer’s Body on it. That would be pretty sick.”

She said her love for lighters partially stemmed from the “journey of a lighter.” Pearl said, “Muscle memory: you put a lighter in your pocket. And then, next thing you know, it ends up in someone else’s pocket and then someone else’s pocket. You never know where it’s been.” Pearl told me, “I want this collection to be at my funeral.”

Though it may seem odd to place a mundane, disposal object on this emotional level, it is clear that Pearl’s lighters are almost inherently emotional. Each piece of her collection takes strength from the context around it, whether it's the people Pearl is with, the place that the lighter was acquired, or the memories that have been made with the object. Each lighter is inseparable from its emotional content; every piece captures moments in time.

Pearl viewed her lighters fondly while answering questions, showing each treasure equal attention. She became visibly disturbed when I asked her to pick her top five lighters to form her personal lighter all-star team. After some deliberation, here’s what Pearl decided on:

Love's Lighter

“One thing about me is I love Love’s. Love’s is a gas station and an awesome place. My sister, when she went on her road trip, became obsessed with Love’s. She and her friend would stop at every one. She got the logo tattooed on her leg and sent a picture of the tattoo to the manager of Love’s. They sent her a ton of free merchandise, including lighters and a JBL speaker that says Love’s on it. So that’s from that. But I also just love Love’s.”

Miss Marlboro

“This one actually doesn’t work. But it’s pretty amazing and it comes with a case, which I’m a big fan of. It’s beautiful. Feel how heavy it is. I love its little case. I got it for my birthday. I’m not sure how it works. I tried to put fluid in the bottom. Didn’t work.”

Whiskey South Carolina

“These are kind of annoying because they’re not actually the best lighters. But it’s not always about the ability. I feel like I have to put this in there because it’s just awesome. This one’s from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It’s about three and a half years old. This one is definitely from a souvenir shop.”

J & M 4eva

“This is my sister in a bikini on a lighter. She got these for her girlfriend for Valentine’s Day. This obviously has to make the all-star. It feels like I’m carrying my sister around in my pocket. It would be insulting to not have that in the all-star.”

Las Vegas

“I like this one because it lights differently than others. It has a really nice texture. It’s just fun. This was also a gift. My sister got it in Las Vegas. I haven’t been to Las Vegas, unfortunately. It’s on my list though. Isn’t it on everyone’s? This one is just really chic, you know?”

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