Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Where There's Smoke

Can you believe it's already March 1st?!  I've been dreaming of Spring for months now, but I still can't believe that it really is right around the corner.  It seems like just yesterday that I was wrapping Christmas presents or tromping through snow.  When I was little, I would sit around and lament how slowly time passed and my mother would always say, just wait until you get older, time passes in the blink of an eye, and she was right! 

Today, it was bright, sunny, and seasonably chilly, but the daffodils are peeking their little heads up through the soil, the birds are singing loudly, and the trees are all starting to bud out, so I'm happy as a clam.  It was the perfect day to bid farewell to Roamy, The Roaming Gnome.  After drawing a name he is headed down south, so he'll be experiencing springtime even before I do, lucky fella!

Now we all know that smoking is bad for you, though I see an alarming number of young people puffing away each time I visit our local college.  But there was a time when it was considered the height of fashion.  Elegant women with cigarette holders graced the covers of magazines, and handsome actors in television ads charmed us with their rugged good looks all with a burning cigarette in hand.


My grandfather was a pipe smoker, and I still have a fondness for the smell of a pipe.  I also like the aroma of a good cigar.  Neither of my parents smoked, and I've never smoked either, but we always had plenty of ashtrays scattered around our house.

I grew up in tobacco country and my mother was from Virginia, so smoking was pervasive among our extended family and friends.  Whenever out of town guests or family visited the house was a veritable chimney with people laughing, smoking, and of course with an ashtray in hand.

These weren't just any ashtrays though, they were intricately cut crystal works of art that were heavy enough to injure someone with if you so chose to.  Trust me, I dropped a few from time to time while dusting when I was a kid, and they could break your toe, or dent the floor!

My mother was an only child, so when her parents died she inherited all of her mother's cut crystal ashtrays, and later my siblings and I got them.  I keep mine inside the big black glass display cabinet in my dining room.  I honestly can say that we've never had anyone visit that needed an ashtray.  We've had people visit who were smokers, but knowing we didn't smoke, they've all opted to go outside when the urge to have a cigarette hit them. 

Along with the cut crystal ashtrays we had growing up, my mother and father also had a fondness for brass ones.  They loved Virginia Metalcrafters, a brass manufacturing company that is synonymous with Colonial Williamsburg.

They made a series of ashtrays representing different leaves, like the mistletoe ashtray above, and I think my parents had nearly every single pattern they made.

As a child, we would make the pilgrimage to their sale and my parents would stock up on more ashtrays, candlesticks, and trivets.  They also owned a pair of VM andirons and door knockers.  Our house was like a mini showroom for the company, but my parents truly loved their wares and enjoyed having them around our house over the years.

The lotus leaf above was one that often got used by visiting smokers, as you can see by the wear and tear to the finish.

Others were strictly for display, like the tobacco leave pictured above.  My parents gave each of us one to display in our own homes, and they often gave them as gifts as a reminder of our area's tobacco growing heritage.

I have about 10 of these brass ashtrays, all were gifts from my parents, or ones that I inherited and I love each of them.  These, along with cut crystal ones I now own all bring back happy memories.  Kind of ironic really when tobacco has ended the lives of so many over the years.  But these ashtrays take me back to a time when my parents entertained and our home was full of family and friends enjoying one another's company.  

I guess even a gray cloud can have a brass or crystal lining!

Spreading the Love...


  1. oh Kat i never seen so many pretty ashtrays...my grandfather was a cigar smoker and my dad occasionaly a pipe but to this day prefers a NON filter cig...ah at 83 i am not gonna b***h at him, Easter i will be smoke free for 2 yrs....anyways your like me maybe to some these would not be cherished but its the memories that things bring us.

  2. Kat, I remember the days of copious ashtrays too. Your collection is beautiful in it's on right. I come from a long line of folk who smoked un-filtered camels but I have never smoked. In the early 80's the attending physican in Cardiology used to make rounds while smoking where I worked. Can you imagine that now? ♥O

  3. I was just yesterday speaking with someone about those big old crystal ashtrays. She uses them under plants in her house - elegant enough for show!

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. I simply cannot be around smoke. Asthma. Just a whiff of it sends me off. But those are beautiful ash trays there.

  6. Having trouble spelling today. Everyone of these pieces is unique and beautiful. And none of them look anything like ashtrays to me. Well not the ones I was used to seeing growing up. A very interesting, and heart warming read about happy times.

    Lisa x

  7. Boy Kat, your family certainly had more elegant ash trays than ours did. Your crystal is beautiful. Both of my parents were heavy smokers, myself I've never tried it.

  8. When I was little, I used to do the same thing. Time went ever so slowly, then. And our mothers were right.

  9. I remember ashtrays too - I still use them. Those 'hedgehog' intricately cut little bowls are not ashtrays, though - they look more like 19th C. sweetmeat bowls to me, and probably Irish, maybe Waterford.

  10. Those ashtrays are beautiful. I agree that they look like sweetmeat bowls ;-)

  11. Hmm, I'm pretty sure they aren't Waterford Tom, though I wish they were. I have lots of Waterford stemware, but now you all have me wondering if 2 of them are sweetmeat bowls?! I know that one of them is an ashtray, it has the indentations for holding a cigarette, but I will do a little more research on the other two. Thanks for the heads up! This is exactly why I love blogging, you learn something new every day!

    Kat :)

  12. Love that tray that looks like a fine snowflake - beautiful!

    I love the smell of pipe smoke too.. my dad used to smoke a pipe and I remember the sweet scent of the tobacco in the bag before he stuffed it in his pipe.

    Not a fan of smoking though - yuck.

  13. You are about a month ahead of us weather wise, but nonetheless, today was sunny and warmer. My friend and I ventured out for lunch and shopping. Your crystal is lovely, but it is the shine on that table that I am admiring! Alas, spring does not last long around here, tomorrow will be cold and wet. Since the carpet cleaners are coming on Thursday, I guess I should get my shiny polishing done!

  14. I hope you are doing well!
    Happy March (and warm weather soon)!!!

  15. That was fun to see that you have an ashtray collection and hear the story behind them too. I have an ashtray that is one my favorite pieces that Henri bought for me years ago, because when I was young and my father took me to the art museum I remembered seeing one like it there. It's so interesting how our childhood memories influence how we feel about objects today. xo ~Lili

  16. I remember the days my parents were smoking and my mom would host bridge club and they all smoked I do believe. I never tried after growing up around it. I can't stand it. Those are some very pretty ash trays.

  17. These are very pretty...I really love the leaves!

  18. Kat, I agree with those who have commented that a couple of the crystal pieces look like sweetmeat bowls. They are all so beautiful.
    My dad smoked a pipe. I have never smoked and can't stand to be around it...but some of the old ashtrays are beautiful. Your collection is gorgeous.

  19. Kat it is so interesting that in some circles smoking is once again fashionable, just go to the movies or watch Mad Men!

    I love, love the Virginian Metalworks pieces, the tobacco leaf and the lotus leaf, wow!

    Do come and enter my Artful Offering!

    Art by Karena

  20. Those are gorgeous and I never would have thought that they were ashtrays. My dad smoked when we were little and out ashtrays were yellow and brown and orange plastic! So chic! :) My grandpa smoked a pipe as well and I can still smell the pipes, I kind of like that smell as well. The leaf trays are beautiful, I can see why no one could use them.

  21. Kelly J/Hunters HillMarch 2, 2011 at 2:02 PM

    Thanks for sharing your lovely collection with us. I love the lotus leaf and of course the tobacco leaf.... I know smoking is AWFUL but I really truly miss seeing tobacco fields

  22. Love those brass dishes - must be another use for them! Crystal - uh-uh.

  23. What beautiful collections! I'm sure there must be many uses for them, other than as ashtrays.

  24. I have bid on a number
    of cut glass bowls at
    auction but have never
    seen the ash trays...
    What a great collection!
    And YES, I, too, remember
    the days when my parents
    had parties and there was
    smoke and laughter and
    it was all very Mad Men!!
    Great memories.
    xx Suzanne

  25. These are all lovely, but the brass tobacco leaf is my favorite. My family's history is "planted" firmly in tobacco. In 1678, my 8th great-grandfather bought 200 acres of land in Surry County, Virginia for 11,000 pounds of tobacco. Growing continued as they made their way down to Georgia in the mid-1800s, where the farm my great-grandfather's started is still owned by a family member. One of the old "bacca barns" is still (kind of) standing. Even my daddy worked for Royal Wholesale Cigar Company in California until the 1980s.

    My parent's favorite ashtrays? Why, abalone shells of course, lol.

  26. Kelly J/Hunters HillMarch 3, 2011 at 1:15 PM

    Kat, I've got to look when I get home, but looking again I believe I have the SAME dish that you show in picture number four. My great aunt gave it to me as a wedding gift and it was given to her grandmother (my great grandmother on her wedding day) 100 years ago. It's VERY heavy. I just had it out at Christmas time !

  27. The bowl (and even the ashtray) look like Czechoslovakian crystal, which is so beautiful.

  28. I grew up in a smoking home with lots of cool ash trays. I hated smoking and was the child who posted signs around our home "NO SMOKING". Both my parents quit for health. But then my kids reached teens and my son began smoking at 16. It is still very 'in' with the young adults. He is 20 now and wants to quit. My 17 yrs. old daughter began smoking at 16 too. She only smoked when she was with a group of teens who were smoking, but she quit this year on New Years. We do have ash trays on our porch and patio. It is alot harder to find ash trays nowadays. But I've found some heavy crystal ones with roses from the Dollar store of all places.

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