Even though the practice of smoking tobacco has been around since the 16th century, cigarettes did not achieve widespread popularity until the middle of the 19th. Not surprisingly, that’s also about the time when the first ashtrays appeared.

Whether or not you smoke, ashtrays are appealing collectibles for numerous reasons. First, they are small, which means you can acquire hundreds of ashtrays and display them in a relatively finite amount of space. Second, they were made out of a wide range of materials, so if you are a fan of art glass, pounded copper, or ceramics, there is bound to be an ashtray for you. Third, ashtrays were produced during some of the most creative periods in history, which means there are ashtrays for fans of the Victorian era, Arts and Crafts, and Art Deco. Finally, ashtrays are snapshots of their culture, so it is not uncommon to find ashtrays that were produced to advertise products and events of the day.

Ceramic ashtrays in the United States ranged from the simple, folksy animal shapes produced by Rookwood and Red Wing to the geometric ashtrays of Homer Laughlin, whose Fiesta and Amberstone ashtrays were marked by the firm’s trademark concentric rings. Haeger Pottery made ashtrays for commercial settings (hotels, restaurants), as did Shenango and Hall.

More fanciful were the ceramic ashtrays of Brush-McCoy, whose pot-bellied ashtray flanked by a pair of open-mouthed frogs (that’s where you were supposed to put your fresh cigarettes) is quite collectible. Currier & Ives made ceramic ashtrays whose borders and cigarette rests acted as frames for the scenic prints in their centers. Van Briggle made ashtrays in the shapes of card suits, and Homer Laughlin produced an ashtray whose central image of a group of dogs playing poker is a classic—for a while, smoking cigarettes and playing cards were inseparable activities. As for Russel Wright, his ashtrays were paragons of efficiency, with matchbox holders built into their bases.

Ashtrays in the U.K. were somewhat more refined. Made of porcelain by such renowned potteries as Wedgwood, English ashtrays tended to be formal and highly decorated. Wedgwood produced countless Jasperware ashtrays, mostly in the firm’s signature cobalt hue but also in pink, purple, and black. Royal Winton produced rectangular stacking ashtrays with colorful scenes on black backgrounds—a set of four ashtrays accompanied by a matching cigarette box is considered a real catch.

Funkier were Royal Doulton’s "ash receivers," so-called because they were not shaped like trays. Instead, these pieces assumed the form of hollowed-out heads depicting scoundrels and characters of English lore, from the 18th-century highwayman Dick Turbin to generically named cartoonish coots such as Farmer John and Old Charley.

Other international ceramic ashtrays included those made by Limoges, Haviland, and Quimper in France; the blue-on-white hand-painted windmill ashtrays from Delft of Holland; Royal Bayreuth, Villeroy & Boch, and Hummel ashtrays from Germany; and Japan’s Noritake ashtrays, which were sometimes decorated with figural frogs, pelicans, and horse heads...

Of the glass ashtrays, some of the easiest to collect are the Depression glass pieces made in the United States by Anchor Hocking, Bartlett Collins, and Federal. The Manhattan pattern, with its concentric rings and trios or quartets of cigarette rests, was quite common, as were ashtrays in the shapes of playing-card suits. Less widespread were Art Deco ashtrays, whose bases were chunkier and more architectural than decorative. Greensburg, Knox, and Hazel Atlas are three other manufacturer names to look for.

After the Depression, pressed-glass patterns such as Daisy Button, Moon & Stars, and Hobnail seemed perfectly suited to ashtrays; carnival glass, milk glass, and vaseline glass were also used. U.S. manufacturers included Akro Agate, Cambridge, Fenton, and Imperial.

Art-glass ashtrays were also popular. Everyone from Steuben to Lalique to Waterford to Daum made them. The Venetians pulled at the edges of their molten crystal to create everything from thick bubble-glass ashtrays to whimsical pieces in the shapes of clowns, fish, and birds.

In the 20th century, metal ashtrays were common all over the world. Brass, bronze, and copper were routinely used, but so were chrome, aluminum, and silver, from sterling to plate. Breaking away from these monochromatic ashtrays were the cloisonné and enameled pieces exported from China.

Regardless of the material they were made out of, ashtrays with advertisements on them were an economical way for companies to spread the word about their products and services. Since ashtrays were ubiquitous to bars, ashtrays sporting advertisements for beer and liquor brands were produced in great numbers, making them achievable collectibles today. Coors, Pabst, Olympia, Schlitz, Budweiser, Grain Belt, Stroh’s, Lone Star, Hamm’s, and Colt 45 are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to U.S. beer companies who advertised on ashtrays. In the U.K, Joule’s, Tennent’s, Bass, and Courage all left their marks on ashtrays, as did Heineken, Pilsner Urquell, St. Pauli Girl, Tuborg, Tucher Bier, and Hackerbräu.

If ashtrays for beer companies tended to be workmanlike, ashtrays for liquor producers were often handsome and sophisticated. Examples included the white Scotty dog figural in the center of a black ashtray for Black & White Scotch, or the Limoges ashtray with gold cigarette rests framing a portrait of Napoleon made for Camus Napoleon Cognac. Especially collectible is the yellow heart-shaped ashtray for Gordon’s gin, with the slogan "The Heart of a Good Cocktail" in black letters on the ashtray’s white rim.

Some people like to collect the glass or ceramic ashtrays made for U.S. casinos, Harrah’s the Sands, and the Hotel Fremont, to name but a few. Then there are collectors of ashtrays for nightclubs and entertainment spots, from the shallow, yellow glass squares made for the Playboy Club to the deep ceramic discs made for the Stork Club. Fraternal organizations made their own ashtrays, too—a Shrine ashtray featuring a figural of a red fez is particularly collectible.

Transportation-themed ashtrays were also popular. Those with a chrome airplane hovering over its ashtray are highly sought, as are the glass ashtrays sitting in a real rubber tires made by Firestone, Michelin, Goodyear, and others.

Finally there were the novelty ashtrays. The Big Mouths were hollow, porcelain ashtrays in the shape of tall, elongated heads with enormous, gaping mouths—vent holes in the head and ears allowed cigarette smoke to escape in comic ways. Most of these were made in Japan, but the most collectible ones are from the German firm of Shaffer & Vater.

Another type of Big Mouth had a rounder head and, inexplicably, a bee on the figure’s nose. There were Big Mouth animals, too, from cats and dogs to whales and frogs. Other novelty porcelain ashtrays included ones depicting Charlie Chaplin, happy-go-lucky hobos, and a tall conductor with strategically placed vents holes so that smoke would puff from his oversize ears.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Match World

Match World

This ambitious site showcases the 20,000-item Rankei Library matchbook collection, owned by the Japan Match Manufac… [read review or visit site]

Advertising Antiques

Advertising Antiques

This classy looking British site features hundreds of high resolution photos of antique porcelain pre-war (enamel) … [read review or visit site]

Kensitas Silk Flowers

Kensitas Silk Flowers

Don Wearmouth and his wife showcase the 230 beautiful silk designs that were distributed free with Kensitas cigaret… [read review or visit site]

Ad Access

Ad Access

Duke University's library has pulled together an impressive collection of over 7,000 ads printed in U.S. and Canadi… [read review or visit site]

Matchbox Labels

Matchbox Labels

Jane McDevitt's huge Flickr photoset of matchbox labels, primarily Eastern European, from the 1950s and 60s. These … [read review or visit site]

American Package Museum

American Package Museum

Ian House's gallery of early 20th Century American package designs. Browse the exhibits in slide show mode or view … [read review or visit site]

Truth in Advertising

Truth in Advertising

This gallery of cigarette magazine advertising from the 1940s and 50s contains no surgeon general's warning, just p… [read review or visit site]

Found in Moms Basement

Found in Moms Basement

Paula Zargaj-Reynolds’ blog, an extensive collection of 20th century vintage advertising, is a visual feast. Scro… [read review or visit site]

Matchbook Museum

Matchbook Museum

James Lileks' gallery of 400 matchbooks from coffee shops, hotels, motels, bars, banks, restaurants and more. Lilek… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Wwi Trench Art Copper Ashtray Part Of German Submarine Deutschland U Boat U155Hamm's Beer Advertising Ashtray, Leo & Jerry Hedler Thorp Wisc Hamms Item SignRonson Lighter Vintage Striker Cigarette Brass Bulldog Art Metal Works AshtrayRare 1960's Chrome Desktop Northrop Grumman Model F-5 Tiger Military Jet AshtrayGoodyear Zeppelin Blimp Airship Akron Duralumin Embossed Ashtray Akron OhioRare Royal Doulton Dickens Ware Artful Dodger Matchbook Holder Ashtray - PotteryVintage Dekalb Chix Advertising Ashtray By Rosemeade Farm Feed Hamm's Beer Bear Advertising Ashtray Hamms Display Item Man Cave Display“iron Fireman” Metal Ashtray Made By Advanced Products, Cleveland, OhioVintage Fairchild Packet Art Deco Airplane Plane Jet Metal Ashtray Dish AviationVintage Ornate Sterling Silver Ashtray Ecuador 48.5 Grams~~ Vintage Las Vegas Club Ashtray ~opened 1930 ~ House Of Jackpots ~ Race HorseVintage Naughty Lady Nodder Ashtray Patent Tt Erotica Great Condition Leg MovesGucci Vintage Gold Trim Ashtray AuthenticGenuine Art Deco Henry Howell Yz Nut Bird Bakelite Faturan Phenolic Ashtray 19301950's Vintage Lighter, Cig Case, Ashtray And Comb Set. Never Used.1920s Firestone Truck Tires Advertising Figural Tire Ashtray W Bronze InsertRonson S/l Bulldog With Ashtray Circa 1938Vintage Campbell 66 Express Tray Or Ashtray-"humpin To Please"-camel-truckingVintage Illinois Terminal Rr System Bronze AshtrayVintage Black Cat Head Ashtray With Smoking Nose Japan RedwareVintage Cast Metal Iron Indian Chief Fort Ligonier Souvenir AshtrayVtg Convair B-36 Bomber Peacemaker Metal Desk Model Ashtray Us Air Force Vtg Copper Brass Italian Brogue Cigarette Cigar Coffee Table Metal Shoe AshtrayVintage End Of The Day Enamel Swirl, Large Ruffled Dish- Ashtray ! Look !Vintage Original Michelin Man Black Bakelite Advertising Ashtray 5" Tall2 Blue Vintage Las Vegas Casino Ashtrays!! Silver Palace And Golden Gate1962 Seattle Worlds Fair Ashtray ~ Space Needle~ Pristine Condition! ~ RareVintage Elf Pixie Nodder Ashtray - Patent Tt JapanCool! Retro Red With Metal Stand Atomic AshtrayNew Nice Fine Cohiba Round Yellow Metal Aluminum Alloy Cigars Ashtray Wg026Vintage Green Drip Glaze Studio Art Pottery (1950's-60's) Ashtray EucFrankart? Nuart? Ronson? Art Deco Modernism Era Nude Lady Ashtray.Vintage Pan Am Metal Ashtray From 1950'sRare Vintage Advertising Pepsi Cola Ashtray Tin Tray Mex 60s Great Ww2 Ashtray Made From Shell Base With Coast Guard InsigniaRare Vintage Playboy Club Ashtray . Black See Through . Walt Disney World 1970s Vintage Cinderella Castle Logo Ceramic Rare AshtrayVintage Enesco Snappy The Snail Anthromorphic Ashtray BowlVintage Red Glass Ashtray ~ Nice!Romeo Y Julieta Cigar AshtrayBali Hai Resort Motel Las Vegas, Nevada Clear Glass Ashtray Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Bronze Carved Dragon Big AshtrayVintage Huey P Long Motor Hotel Winfield Louisiana AshtrayPraha Texas Flatonia Tx Advertising Ashtray U S Royal Tires Felix Hajek GarageRoyal Doulton Old Charley Toby Jug Mug Ashtray 1960s Pizza Hut Glass Ashtray...rare Version!!Vintage Floor Model Marlboro Ashtray Plastic Body Aluminum Cap Nice CollectableVintage Tire Tyre Ashtray Kleber Colombes European French Metal Insert Advertising Good Year Tire Ashtray Dawson Oil & Transport Co. Osmond, NebraskaChase Painted Brass Flip-top Ashtray 1934 Century Of Progress Chicago World FairChinese Old Copper Handwork Carving Belle Bath Ashtray StatueShriner Ceramic Ashtray With Fez "san Francisco By The Golden Gate" Salem Creamery Co. Virginia Clover Dairy Ashtray ~ Salem VaFix 'er Upper: Rare Us Homefront Anti-axis Ashtray W/tojo As A RatVintage Bob's Big Boy Restaurant AshtrayRare Vintage Playboy Club Ashtray . Black See Through . Rare Vintage Playboy Club Ashtray . Black See Through . 3 Listed . Last One!!H. Upmann Porcelain Antique Ashtray New Rare 4 Four Cigar Ashtray Swiss Air Airlines 747 Airline Ashtray, Made Is Switzerland Great Cond