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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:

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

Founded by a royal charter from Louis XV in 1764, Baccarat became widely referred to as the "crystal of kings" during its period of most intense popularity and output in the late 19th century. The firm, which continues to thrive, is located in the northern Lorraine region of France in the town of Baccarat, named after a temple dedicated to Bacchus that was built during the Roman occupation. Today, Baccarat is considered to be the most prestigious and traditional French glass sold in the United States.

Since the Napoleonic era, Baccarat has specialized in clear, highly polished and cut ornamental and table glass with high lead content, and the modern range of ashtrays is typical of the company's legacy. This is particularly true of the designs entitled "Coronas" and "Palma," which are in the traditional style (referred to as "brilliant cut") made popular by Baccarat and others during the second half of the 19th century.

Like Waterford, but unlike most modern glass companies, Baccarat rarely strays far from tradition, and it is not uncommon for designs to remain in production for more than 100 years.

Daum
"Roc"-$395

Founded by Jean Daum in the late 1870s in the town of Nancy, situated in the southern part of France's Lorraine region, the firm has grown to become one of the most respected modern glassworks in the world. Daum was under family ownership until recently. The earliest products of the Daum glassworks include traditional, heavily cut glass in the Baccarat taste, but since about 1889, Daum has specialized in ornamental "artistic" wares, particularly vases and table lamps.

The colorful and languid Art Nouveau style established at Daum before 1900 can still be identified in the modern ware, as can the tradition of using innovative techniques and materials, notably the semiopaque and granular "glass paste" termed pate de verre. For more than 40 years, Daum has routinely commissioned artists (including Salvador Dalí) to design ornamental and useful wares, and also maintains a talented team of in-house designers.

The only ashtray currently made by Daum suitable for cigars is the model entitled "Roc," which is the work of the company's design team, and has been in production for about 10 years. The avant-garde taste and combination of clear with colored glass is typical of Daum's work.

Hoya
"Apostrophe"-$225
"Zodiac"-$295

The words "Made in Japan" do not normally evoke images of decorative glass, but even the oldest established European glassmakers can learn from the extraordinary success of Hoya Crystal, which has been manufactured for more than 30 years, but has only been available in the United States since 1985. A branch of the Tokyo-based Hoya Co., a world leader in the manufacture of industrial, medical and optical glass, Hoya Crystal has successfully chipped away at the American market with its extensive range of innovative ware.

Following the strategy developed by Steuben and the Scandinavian glassmakers and pursued since the 1920s, Hoya has relied on the exclusive manufacture of high-quality, clear glass for much of its success and offers relatively inexpensive production models together with virtuoso pieces by leading Japanese artists, some of which retail for more than $30,000. Several of the production designs are also the commissioned work of innovative designers, such as the ashtray entitled "Apostrophe," designed by Saburo Funakoshi in the 1980s, which is typically unconventional.

Lalique
"Cannes" - $550
"Cuba" - $400
"Aladdin" - $975
"Aruba" - $410
"Soudan" - $470

Founded by René Lalique in 1885, the Lalique Co. has been manufacturing glass commercially since 1910, when it opened a small works near Paris, and has produced glass on a significant scale since 1921, following the opening of a factory located in the town of Wingen-sur-Möder in the Alsace region of France, close to the city of Strasbourg.

Throughout its history, the company has pursued a policy of exclusively manufacturing the designs of family members. Designs by René Lalique, who died in 1945, are widely considered the company's finest work, and many examples, including more than a dozen ashtrays, are still in production. Since the Second World War, the firm has been headed by Marc Lalique, René's son, who was replaced by his daughter Marie-Claude Lalique, following his death in 1977. The majority of the designs by Marc and Marie-Claude are in the familiar, high-lead-content glass with contrasted areas of frosted "satin" finish and polishing, a style that has become synonymous with the Lalique name.

The Art Deco taste of many Lalique designs affords a period flavor to much of the glass, which is reinforced by several apparently obsolete models, such as letter seals and rocker blotters that are still in production. The ubiquity of the smoking habit during the interwar years is also still evident in Lalique's extensive range of 46 ashtrays. At least 10 ashtrays are suitable for cigars, a fact which may relate to Marie-Claude Lalique's own cigar smoking habit, and if these were not enough, Lalique also makes a number of shallow bowls that appear to be ashtrays in disguise.

Lalique's cigar-ashtray designs include the model entitled "Nina," one of a series of six molded with images of historic sailing vessels, which were originally introduced as decorative plates in the late 1930s and later modified by Marc Lalique. Another Marc Lalique design from about 1950 is the model "Cannes, which is typical of the evolved René Lalique style. The work of Marie-Claude Lalique, which has been produced for about 30 years, is more fluid and asymmetric than that of her father. Her recently introduced design entitled "Aladdin" typifies a modern trend toward innovation and whimsy.

Saint Louis
"Firmament" - $840
"Caravelle" - $328

The town of Saint Louis is located in the Alsace region of France and is close to the Lalique factory. Glass has been made on the site of the Saint Louis glassworks since at least 1586, and the firm has operated under the impressive title of Cristalleries Royales de Saint Louis, following a decree of Louis XV in 1767.

Saint Louis, owned by Hermés since the late 1980s, specializes in the manufacture of ornate, heavily cut and richly ornamental crystal-type glass introduced before the French Revolution, most of which has a distinctively French flavor and evokes the splendor of European royalty. Like Baccarat, Saint Louis enjoyed a period of immense prosperity during the conspicuous consumption of the second half of the 19th century, and many of its modern wares date in design origin or influence from this gilded age.

Among the specialties of Saint Louis are overlay, or "flash" glass, wherein one or more layers of colored glass are applied over a clear ground, which is revealed by pattern cutting. This technique has been common since the middle of the 19th century and widely practiced by Bohemian (Czech) glassmakers. The impressive Saint Louis ashtray model "Firmament" is a good example of the "fancy" style and features the royal or cobalt blue overlay, which is a Saint Louis favorite. "Firmament" can literally and metaphorically be described as "gilt-edged." Another imposing Saint Louis ashtray is the large model of "Caravelle" (also in two smaller sizes). The fluid, lava-lamp taste belies its design origin in the early 1970s.

Nicolas M. Dawes writes frequently about glass.

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