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]

Plan 59

Plan 59

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

~ 1930s ~ Ronson Touch Tip Black Chrome Art Deco 16439 Table Lighter & AshtrayRare 1939 Deco Ronson Georgian Bronze Touch Tip Lighter Ashtray CombinationRoyal Air Force Raf Ashtray Made From Rolls Royce Merlin Spitfire Engine PistonVintage Las Vegas Monte Carlo Club Casino AshtrayRare Drink Moxie Cola Soda Wood Butler Maid Ashtray Holder Stand -orig Ash Tray Vintage Naughty Lady Nodder Fan Dancer Ashtray. Patent Tt. Ceramic. Exclnt Cnd.Hermes New White Porcelain Printed 4pc Ashtray Set BhfoLot Of 13 Black Americana Items Shaker Sets String Holder Ashtray Cast Iron BankGreat Northern Railroad Syracuse Ashtray Goat & TreesVtg Smokey The Bear Snuffit Ashtray Not Used SouvenirAntique Crimson Red Wedgwood Ashtray From Wedgwood Suite Nice!Antique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver German Smoking Drinking Ashtray 22 GramsBrass Ww2 Spitfire Ashtray Primitive Hand Produced Trench Art Plane On Cast BaseVintage Michelin Man Ashtray Bibendum Mr. Bib Bakelite Usa Classic No Reserve! Antique 1898 John Grinsell & Sons London England Sterling Silver Clown AshtrayEngland Wedgwood Jasperware Yellow Primrose Egg And Ashtray Ships Ashtray - Ngi - Porcellana - Verbano Di Laveno - Navigazione ItalianaVintage Black Americana Metal Butler Ashtray Smoking / Umbrella Stand 30" TallVintage Ronson Scotty Dog Ashtray Vintage Collectible Lot Striker Lighter,ashtray,cigarette Lighter,snuffer,holderVintage Collectible Allis Chalmers Ashtray Advertising White Gold TrimHermes Paris Lge Dove Gray Framed Den Cigar Ashtray Jack Russell Terrier MotifCasino Ashtray Tri Lobe Colony Reno Nevada Tuff Early Slots Gambling Gaming Vintage Masonic Ashtray Freemason Mason Lodge FraternalCohiba Ceramic Black & Gold 4 Cigar AshtrayWedgwood 5 Pieces,, Large Bowl, 2 Small Jugs,,1 Container With Lid,,1 Ashtray,,Authentic Hermes White Gold Cigar Ashtray Never Used Perfect ConditionVintage Ceramic Made In Japan Mr. Peanut Ashtray Two Peanut Back 1943 Wwii Trench Art Brass Artillery Shell British 25 Pdr/50 Cal Bullet AshtrayVintage Black Ceramic Coors Beer AshtrayWwii Trench Art Shell Casing Ashtray 1941 9" Airplane Marine Corp InsigniaVintage Early Honda Motors Winged Coin Tray Ashtray Z50 Ct70 Cb77 Gold Wing S800Alacite By Aladdin Rare Coaster Ashtray Mint Gorgeous Art Deco Style 2Vintage Wooden Smoking Stand Ashtray Drawer Glass Bowl Brass HoldersGroup Of 3 Great Northern Railroad Syracuse China Ashtrays1958 Brussels World's Fair Atomium Space Age Cogebi Ashtray Mid-century AtomicCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Cloisonne Craved Owl AshtrayCohiba La Habana Cuba 7 7/8" Large Cigar AshtrayWw 2 Trench Art Shell Casing W/ Japanese Shell Part & Australian Penny- AshtrayWw Ii Artillery Shell Base Brass Ashtray Trench Art Huge & HeavyGriswold Erie Cast Iron Square Ashtray 770 W/ Match Holder Very Nice!!Vintage Art Deco 1920s 30s Chrome Smoking Stand Electric Mica Lighter AshtrayAlacite By Aladdin Rare Coaster Ashtray Mint Gorgeous Art Deco StyleVtg Art Deco - Epns A1 Rtc Silver Plate Tennis Ashtray C.1930's Ball RacquetHuge Clear Glass ,ice Block Look Ashtray Cigar Cigerette ,large , Heavy 50+ Yr Old Metal Ashtray - Mack Bulldog - ChicagoVintage 60's-70's Retro Metal & Wood Ashtray Smoking StandCalifornia/pacific Exposition,san Diego,1935,ben Hur Coffee,globe Flour,ashtrayNew Zippo Lighter Spider-man Limited300 With AshtrayCarousel Casino Downtown Las Vegas Nevada AshtrayArt Deco Wwii Metal Fighter Airplane Sculpture AshtrayRare Ronson German Sheperd Dog AshtrayWalter Bosse Taxco Ashtray Mid Century Modernist Brass Abstract MexicoVintage 1940's Texaco Varga Pin Up Girl Glass Ashtray! Very Collectible Glass!Vintage Lot Of 5 Dog Cat Animal Lustre Ware Ashtrays - Japan Bf Goodrich Rubber/glass, Tire Ashtray Promo Collectible!!! Cool, Clean, Rare!!!Rare Heywood Wakefield Vintage Heywoodite AshtrayVintage Stardust Las Vegas AshtrayAntique Figural Nude Woman Cigar Cutter / AshtrayVintage Trench Art Heavy Chrome Plated Steel 4 Bullet Ashtray Vguc No Reserve

Recent News: Ashtrays

Source: Google News

War breaks out
Daily News Egypt, April 15th

The world's biggest ashtray – 86bn smokes a year with a payday of $100bn. Raking in $4.5bn taxes on fags is the government's biggest money spinner, (EGP 42bn), second only to the $5.5bn Suez ... Have done for years courtesy of the Danish Pipe Shop in...Read more

'Retronauting': why we can't stop sharing old photographs
The Guardian, April 13th

Vintage pictures shared online by accounts such as Retronaut, HistoryInPix and IndiaHistoryPic capture moments gone for ever, but as vividly as the here-and-now. ... A giant cigarette in an ashtray advertises Craven "A" high above Piccadilly Circus...Read more

Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind., Laura Lane column
Insurance News Net (press release), April 12th

On April 1 , Kurt Stoops from Vintage Auto Appraisers Inc. in Indianapolis drove out to the Conners' place on Pinhook Road . Kevin Conner backed his dad's SS out of ... He unfolded a slip of paper he found in the car's ashtray. It was a receipt from a...Read more

Pasadena antique crawl leads to chance discovery
Pasadena Star-News, April 6th

To me, most of the stuff you see in antique stores are trinkets and geegaws that may have had some meaning to the original owners but are so much junk now. Who wants an ashtray that says “Cleveland, 1953?” Or a commemorative shot glass from the Inyo ...Read more

National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis reopening
Beaumont Enterprise, March 31st

Replicas of the room service cart and an ashtray filled with cigarette butts provide a sense of authenticity to the solemn memorial. The Memphis museum is not the only one in the country that looks at civil rights or African-American history, or the...Read more