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]

Plan 59

Plan 59

From the Nostlagia Factory in Virginia comes this celebration of 'mid-century automotive advertising illustrations'… [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    

Art Deco Machine Age Iron Fireman Figural Ashtray Robot Wpa Era Industry RelicRare Vintage 1960s Aku Aku Las Vegas Stardust Tiki Ashtray Rat Pack Era Mug Ww2 Royal Air Force Ashtray Made From A Rolls Royce Merlin Engine Piston. AsWwii P-38 Lockheed Lightning Brass Bullet Trench Art Airplane Model Ashtray E20Frank Sinatra Cal Neva Lodge Golden Maple Leaf *metal* Ashtray **rarest Of All**Vintage High Quality Cartier Sterling Silver Personal Cigar Cigarette AshtrayVintage Holt Howard North Pole Jet Stream Ashtray Reindeer Plane With Santa Indian Motorcycle Chief Scout Four 101 Cigarette AshtrayBeautiful Frankart T342 Nude Lady Art Deco Ballerina AshtrayVintage Swirled Amber Catalin Ashtray 63 G TestedSuper Metal Bronze Tone Mobil Oil Pegasus Ashtray Dealer Flying Horse SculptureHermes Porcelain Change Tray Ashtray Dish Nautical, In Perfect ConditionSigned Japanese Kiseru Pipe + Stand + Carved Ojime + Carved Bowl / AshtrayNo Reserve- Vintage Ceramic Orb Ashtray &nude Art Deco Style Pinup Table Display@@ Trench Art V1 Doodlebug Farting Fury Buzz Bomb Ashtray Cigarette Lighter 1920's Grand Vintage Deco Era Ashtray Stand With Nude Gypsey TamborineHermes Porcelain Ashtray TrayVintage 1955-58 Royal Nevada Hotel Las Vegas Glass Ashtray Gambling/atomic TestsFornasetti Gold Split Face AshtrayVery Unusual Vintage Copper Ashtray With Cigar Cutter And Matchbox Holder~nice!!Vintage1950s Porsche Nardi Steering Wheel Ceramic Ashtray By Mastro GhigoVintage Ashtray Minnesota Made By Rosemeade Mounted FishAntique Wrought Iron Smoke Stand W/ Cast Iron Kettle Tobacciana Cigar AshtrayVintage Trench Art Brass Ashtray, Inset Copper Anchor: Navy? Fred Harvey Souvenir Copper Sombrero Cowboy Hat AshtrayWestern Design Ashtray Wallace China Westward Ho Series Longhorn 1951Vintage Boston Terrier Head AshtrayRare Vintage 1927 Armor Bronze Corp Art Deco Nude Dancing Lady AshtrayVintage Westwood Cigarette Table Lighter W/ AshtrayUnusual Vintage Art Deco Standing Ashtray - Brass - Gorgeous Design And Patina!Vintage Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championships Hawaii Glass Ashtray Rare Not In Book 1910's Art Nouveau Ronson Ashtray Striker Cigar LighterMini Pepsi-cola Bottle Ashtray - Dossin's Bottler, Detroit - Mid CenturyAntique 1845 Brass Ashtray - Pipe Smoking Gentlemen Image - Dated On Bottom 1845Stork Club New York Brandy Snifter Ashtray Member Card Paige Palmer Estate 1960 Simon Moselsio, Listed, Art Deco Bronze Ashtray With Antelope, 1928Vintage Phillip's 66 Gas Station Tractor Tire AshtrayVintage Mack Truck Hood Ornament Cigar AshtrayHumidor, Ashtray, Draw Poker, Travel Cases, Cutters Cigar AccessoriesAntique Cigar Cigarette Lighter Ashtray Advertising Fram Oil Filters Gas StationArt Deco/nouveau Blue -green Glass Ashtray With Metal Holder Marked Jb 207Vintage Antique Retro Brown White Poodle Family Puppies Figurine AshtrayHermes Set Of 4 AshtraysVintage Ceramic Snowmobile Ashtray, Red, White & BlueMassive 10" Cohiba Cigar Ashtray W/fancy Detail "fast 3 Day U.s. ShippingWalter Bosse Brass Hedgehog AshtraysBucyrus Erie Equipment Ceramic AshtrayGianni Versace Rosenthal Medusa Ashtray - Yellow & Gold - RareOld Metal Art Deco Frankart Nude Flapper Woman With Black Ceramic AshtrayVintage Mid Century Metal Art Deco Style Floor Ashtray Smoking StandVintage Marlboro Crystal Glass Ashtray Heavy Chunk Square Signed Jg Durand Vintage Smokey The Bear Hat Snuffit AshtrayVintage 40s Westinghouse Air Conditioning Figural Compressor Ashtray ConditionerVintage Firestone Tire Ashtray,gum Dipped Balloon Tire,firestone Mark Of QualityKnapp's Bohemian Special Style Beer Ashtray Knapstein Brewing Co. New London, Wi4.9inch China Old Collectible Decoration Copper Carving Naked Exquisite AshtrayTeak Wood Carving Craft Emboss Elephant Cigar AshtrayFrench Crystal Cut Glass Bronze Cigarette Set Lighter Ashtray Baccarat Egg Marlboro Promo 'smoke Tin Tool' Pocket Ashtray W/leather Belt Or Pocket HolsterVintage Military Brass Trench Folk Art Shell Bullet Airplane Ashtray Wwii

Recent News: Ashtrays

Source: Google News

Caribou Ranch auction: Nearly 500 pieces of music history sold in Denver
Reverb (blog), January 26th

Highlights included an antique mahogany Steinway & Sons grand piano used by Elton John and a 1985 Corvette with custom Caribou license plates. “What was ... Not long after, a Caribou Ranch ashtray and a book of matches sold for $800. A 1925 Wm...Read more

What to see in Memphis the second time around
STLtoday.com, January 23rd

Goner Records may be hit-and-miss in its selection of CDs (though it's a good place to find Memphis music), but it offers a wide array of vintage LPs. The owner was in a couple of garage-punk bands, so the selection leans ... While the selection...Read more

Old trucks provide a glimpse into local history
Helena Independent Record, January 18th

"I've been into vintage vehicles and nice cars since I was 15 years old.” he said. When asked to describe the nicest vehicle ... They had a nicer sound than the Fords of that vintage …” Moore followed in his father's footsteps, ... It was only in more...Read more

Paws & Claws: Animals in Art
Huffington Post, January 16th

Bruce Helander (who is also a Huffington Post contributor), while best known for his witty collages employing vintage images and materials, here presents Dog Daze, a both fanciful and highly realistic painting of a found object, a vintage dog shaped...Read more

Some auto features go way of dinosaur
KCCI Des Moines, January 12th

The move to ashtray-free cars began at Chrysler, whose 1995 Cirrus and Dodge Stratus sedans were the first to be sold without ashtrays as standard equipment. Today, you're much more likely to find a power outlet for a cell phone or MP3 player where the ...Read more

Australian wildfires threaten wine production
AG Week, January 12th

The vineyards have so far escaped the direct ravages of the worst bushfires for 30 years, but winemakers fear their grapes might have fallen victim to smoke taint, which results in wines that taste like an ashtray and can ruin an entire vintage. As...Read more

The Finer Things at Auctions (Jan 12-18)

aircraft with realistically styled passengers onboard; an ashtray with a model of a double-decker, circa 1930s; and an aircraft model lamp, circa 1950s. Click on the slideshow to see, Blouin Lifestyle editor in chief Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop's picks...Read more

Australian wildfires threaten to produce ashtray wine vintage
Reuters UK, January 8th

The vineyards have so far escaped the direct ravages of the worst bushfires for 30 years but winemakers fear their grapes may have fallen victim to "smoke taint", which results in wines that taste like an ashtray and can ruin an entire vintage. As...Read more