Ashtrays were once commonplace in homes. People who didn't smoke had them available for the convenience of friends who smoked.
Souvenir ashtrays were brought back from vacation trips and excursions and occasionally surfaced from a favorite restaurant.
Fundamental, advertising and novelty ashtrays surfaced. There are vintage ashtrays made from pewter, silver, brass, crystal, glass and porcelain. Others were created from metal, wood with glass or brass inserts, marble, ceramic, pottery, clay and tin, not to mention Depression glass, and graniteware.
The history of ashtrays is far shorter than the history of smoking. The first examples probably date from the early 19th century. They were in common use by the late Victorian period. By the early part of the 20th century, ashtray designs increased. Individual, small-size ashtrays came into being, including the popular bean bag-base variety.
During the years immediately following the First World War, there was a distinct rise in the popularity of smoking among women, particularly the young flapper generation, who began to enjoy pursuits and pleasures previously limited to the male domain.
Several manufacturers capitalized on this trend by designing ashtrays of a delicate, dainty and distinctly feminine nature, which are among the most appealing and collectible ashtrays today. These are made from porcelain, crystal and some are handpainted and/or embossed.
Ashtrays of this vintage designed for men tend to be large, solid and made of materials that symbolize power and stability, such as marble and bronze. Many of these for cigarettes and cigars were made strictly for masculine appeal.
During World War II, the popularity of smoking intensified, especially with the armed forces. Just look at a movie made during the '40s and note that everyone is constantly smoking or lighting up.
Throughout the history of ashtray design, glass has been the manufacturers' favorite. Glass, when it is of crystal (high-lead content) type, has all the essential properties of a successful ash receiver. It is easily cleaned, durable and not subject to stain. The refractory nature of glass makes it entirely resistant to a burning tip and glass ashtrays can be included as ornamental accessories in any interior. Waterford and Steuben companies created outstanding examples as did Baccarat, Daum and Lalique. The Hoya Company in Japan also made decorative glass ashtrays.
Ashtrays can be categorized among other tobacciana (items relating to tobacco) collectibles. They can be picked up at yard sales, thrift shops, antique stores and on the Internet.
Souvenir ceramic ashtrays from Florida go for $12 online and feature oranges, flamingos and palm trees. A cast metal log tree with hatchet is priced at $65. A Retro square ashtray with a grey string pattern, even with a chip out of it, is selling for $18.
Vintage Howard Johnson Restaurants Motor Lodge ashtrays evoke summer vacations in the family station wagon and sell for $10.
A Stangl ceramic ashtray, pottery with glaze, is divided and could double as a candy dish. It is found among Retro collectible crystal ashtrays. Some ashtrays have matchholders attached. Others have matching cigarette lighters.
Clear glass Anchor Hocking ashtrays sell for $12, while a vintage Wedgewood ashtray goes for $38.
Mechanical ashtrays with whimsical animals and figures start at $200 each and go upwards. Handcrafted wooden ashtrays feature glass or brass inserts.
A pair of matching ashtrays (one large, one small) made from swirled red California pottery are online for the asking price of $178. A '60s California Pottery in the "cool" boomerang-shaped model goes for $25.
A delicate Dresden crown porcelain ashtray decorated with pink roses and rosebuds is offered for $39.
"Collector's Guide to Ashtrays," second edition by Nancy Wanvig, has 287 pages filled with photos of 2,500 ashtrays made from china, glass, metal and wood. Another book with information is "Collectible Ashtrays" by Jan Lendenberger.
An ashtray made from a shell and featuring a pipe shell and two composition Indians has a $50 price on it.
Although ashtrays are still being manufactured, the number of them that once were seen in homes, businesses and restaurants are long gone.
In a world where smoking is increasingly under siege, new top-quality ashtrays are more difficult to find, perhaps that's why the old ones are so collectible.
A story told by actor John Goodman reveals the advice given him by fellow actor Peter O'Toole, while the movie "King Ralph" was filmed in 1991.
During a break, Goodman, in awe of the British actor, asked to borrow an ashtray. O'Toole, with characteristic flair, flicked his ash on the floor and declared: "Make the world your ashtray, my boy."
(Information in this article was retrieved from the Cigar Aficionado archives.)