Antique Detective: Recognizing Collectible Ashtrays

1By Anne Gilbert


   The humble ashtray may not be so humble. Prices can range into the hundreds of dollars and more for unusual examples. They may not even look like conventional ashtrays, in unusual shapes and materials Ashtrays can be strictly utilitarian or almost an art form. What interests collectors are those made for the many landmark places of business in various cities. Travelers to cities like Paris and Rome brought back ashtrays from famous nightclubs and tourist attractions, as did Americans.
3   During the late 19th century there were ashtrays for cigar smoking Victorian gentlemen. It wasn’t till the 1920s when women took up cigarette smoking that a new style of ashtray was created in stylish Art Deco designs and various materials. Designs used geometric shapes. However, cigarette smoking and the necessary ashtrays didn’t become fashionable until after World War 11. Blame it on the movies when every actor and actress was puffing away.
   By the 1950s and 60s they had become elegant accessories, often created by such designers as Michael and Frances Higgins. Their innovative glass technique examples can sell for several hundred dollars.
   Some early 20th century examples don’t even look like ashtrays. A German floor ashtray of wrought iron was in the form of a Viking ship.
   Famous glass houses such as Lalique and Baccarat made ashtrays. Wedgwood created elegant ashtrays in Jasperware. Murano, Venetians glass used a variety of techniques to create art forms.
2   Then there are the ashtrays from popular bars and hotels that create nostalgic memories. Trips to Las Vegas and the Stork Club are remembered with the swiped ashtrays. The famous Stork Club in business from 1929 to 1965. With its black ceramic stork motif can sell for several hundred dollars.
   These days reproductions are mass produced in black plastic and chins.
   Another historic New York icon, Sardi’s restaurant, was popular for 75 years with theatre actors and theatre goers. Their ashtrays sell for several hundred dollars.
   CLUES: These days, while cigarette smoking is on a downer, collecting ashtrays is on an upper. A collection can be both decorative or utilitarian, depending on how you collect. For instance they can hold cocktails or jewelry or displayed as wall art.
   Flea markets and garage sales still offer unappreciated treasures.
   PHOTO (1) Wrought iron German arts and crafts floor ashtray. CREDIT: infor@leffersantiques.comPHOTO (2) 1940s Stork Club ashtray. CREDIT: Private collector PHOTO (3) Higgins 1950s-60s limited edition ashtray CREDIT: Private collector

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