Americans used to smoke a lot. Not just occasionally to finish a meal or celebrate a rendezvous. They smoked multiple packs a day. They smoked with breakfast coffee, at work desks, at PTA meetings, in the middle of the night. It was a rite of passage, a social interaction, stage business, a prelude to a romantic interlude, something to keep nervous hands occupied. The downside, of course, is the highly addictive habit is also highly lethal. Puffing prevalence peaked in 1954 when 45% of adults smoked, and they smoked everywhere. In restaurants, on airplanes, in hospital waiting rooms, in the family station wagon with kids stowed in the back, the windows up and the air conditioning on full blast.
Hospitable homes offered guests cigarettes from handsome tabletop boxes. Lighters and cases were often pricey, made of silver or gold and were elegant gifts. Ashtrays were necessary everywhere. Some were utilitarian, but often they were highly decorative and even listed on wedding registers. Still others were emblazoned with advertising.
The percentage of Americans with a tobacco addiction stayed high through the 1970s when, to the relief of health care providers and second hand smoke sufferers, it finally started declining. Smoking has steadily decreased since, to its current low of 14% of the adult population partaking.
With their original purpose waning, what to do with all those pretty ashtrays? Many are quality art and far too nice to simply throw away. Fortunately, they are well suited to other uses, durable, and easy to clean. Here are twenty ideas, their application depending on the ashtray design:
- Chopstick rest- the slots meant for cigarettes hold chopsticks between bites of sushi or ramen.
2. Park paint brushes- the slots are great for holding artist’s brushes and the tray catches drips.
3. Fill with candy- mints, kisses, jelly beans, M&Ms.
4. Fill with nuts- peanuts, almonds, cashews. Use two for pistachios, one for the shells.
5. Coasters- put them under glasses, oil bottles, honey jars, anything that drips messily.
6. Art Display- prop up a favorite card.
7. Tea Bags- display unwrapped bags, or catch the drippy ones without making a mess.
8. Coin catch- keep one handy where you empty your pockets or purse.
9. Nail Polish- corral bottles and insert emery boards into the slots.
10. A jewelry keeper. Round ashtrays hold cuff bracelets like they were made for them.
11. Let them stand alone- some ashtrays are so attractive they can just be themselves.
12. Salt containers. Small ashtrays can be used as salt cellars, use larger ones at the bar to rim margarita glasses.
13. Bar condiment holders. Keep lime and lemon wedges, olives, and cherries in a variety of fun ashtrays.
14. Soap and Sponges- handy in the kitchen or bath to hold pump bottles or soap bars. They can make a home for sponges, too.
15. Catch candle drips- put them under pillars to save the table.
16. Sewing/Craft notions. Contain those little things that scatter. Keep whatever you need for your current project handy.
17. Office bits- perfect for binder and paper clips, push pins, flash drives.
18. Spoon rests for the coffee station. It’s easier to put an ashtray in the dishwasher, than to constantly wipe the counter.
19. Keys- designate a special tray so you always know where they are.
20. Vases- place under your favorite flower holder to keep water rings off the table.
Visit our Cider and Sage online shop on Etsy for vintage goods, including the gilded bird ashtrays pictured above.