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Crystal Ashtrays

Nicholas M. Dawes
From the Print Edition:
maduro issue, Winter 93/94

Actor John Goodman tells a story of some advice he received from Peter O'Toole while making King Ralph in 1991. During a break in filming, Goodman, in awe of the British thespian, 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."

Such a gesture may be fitting in eccentric circles, but would hardly be acceptable in the boardroom, office or around the house. That is why we need ashtrays. However, in a world where smoking is increasingly under siege, top-quality ashtrays, especially for cigars, are harder and harder to find. Bur not every manufacturer has forgotten its cigar-smoking clientele.

The history of ashtrays is far shorter than the history of smoking. The first examples probably date from the early 19th century, and ashtrays were in common use by the late Victorian period. By the early part of the 20th century, ashtray design had evolved to provide models of various scales for all smoking habits. These were often combined with devices for holding cigars, cigarettes or other smoking paraphernalia, including lighters, cutters and pipes.

The years immediately following the First World War saw a distinct rise in the popularity of smoking among women, particularly the young flapper generation, who began to enjoy many of the 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.

As if in assertive contrast, 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. There is a clear distinction in this era between cigarette and cigar ashtrays, with the latter clearly designed for masculine appeal.

Throughout the history of ashtray design, glass has been the manufacturer's favorite material. Glass, particularly when it is of crystal (or high-lead-content) type, has all the essential properties of a successful ash receiver: it is easily cleaned, durable and not subject to stains, owing to its impervious nature. Furthermore, the refractory nature of glass (which has been subjected to temperatures usually in excess of 1,000 degrees Celsius), makes it entirely resistant to a burning tip, and glass ashtrays can be included as ornamental accessories in any interior.

The modern cigar smoker is faced with fewer choices of glass ashtrays than smokers a generation ago, when ashtrays the size of manhole covers were strategically placed wherever cigars were smoked, from the boardroom to the boudoir. Tom McInerney, vice president of marketing for Waterford Crystal, explains: "Waterford's limited assortment of ashtrays is strictly volume-related. These items have not been in demand in our market for quite some time. Since it is expensive to introduce new crystal designs, we prefer to develop our more profitable product categories."

Steuben, the country's most prestigious glass manufacturer, has just discontinued its one remaining ashtray. As with Waterford, Steuben has not been successful in recent years with smoking-related accessories.

CIGAR AFICIONADO has assembled the finest glass ashtrays from the world's most established glassmakers, all of which are available throughout the United States, and most of which can be found internationally. The following is our sampling, with manufacturers listed alphabetically:

"Coronas" - $635
"Palma" - $585
"Triomphe" - $215
"Vulcan" - $360

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