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Cigars and the History of the Ashtray

Ever since the early 1600’s, the culture of tobacco and tobacco products has made its home among controversy, bans and repeals. From the banning of tobacco products by Pope Urban VIII (reasoning was that tobacco prompted the user to sneeze and sneezing was just too close to some utterances made during sexual interactions) to Adolf Hitler’s assailing crusade on eliminating smoking via harsh tax deterrents and the illegalization of smoking in almost every public place. Cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products know what it feels like to be the frequent scorn of the public’s eye. But, as time ever hurdles forward, many of these stigmatisms have died away and tobacco has now become a major industry both in the United States and throughout the world. Riding along through all of these turbulent waters sat one little iconic object in the tobacco world, the ashtray. 

The Early Years 

While rudimentary forms of ashtrays existed long before the 19th century, it was during this time that the design, aesthetic and their popularity really took off. As more and more women began to smoke in the early 1900’s, the ashtray inched closer and closer to an art form of sorts. Many women shunned the use of the traditional ashtray as it failed to reflect their feminine values through an activity that was long heralded as being exclusive to men. What emerged were detailed, often very ornate ashtrays. These ashtrays depicted pastoral scenes of maidens wandering through vibrantly colored landscapes. Some even featured very lavish, cast-iron models of women in frilly dresses, animals in states of play and the occasional porcelain/ceramic tray highlighting extravagant floral arrangements. 

As time went on, and the advent of women smoking both cigars and cigarettes became less of a deviation from the norm, ashtrays saw a decline in design aesthetics and more of a shift towards practicality. However, it was not uncommon to see ashtrays featuring pin-up girls in bars and lounges during this decade. It was also during this time that another trend in ashtrays began to emerge. The auto ashtray. 

While the implementation of vehicle ashtrays is now becoming something of the past, there was a time when these not only came standard, they were expected. In early years, design oversights put these ash receptacles right below the A/C and heating so every time the vehicle owner would use either of these, ash would inadvertently fly in their face or all throughout the car. But as new models of vehicles were constantly introduced to the public, these little foibles gave way and many began to use chrome trays with covers that could be opened and closed at the driver’s discretion. Many luxury cars would up the ante with the design and it was not uncommon to see intricately made ashtrays in some of the high end cars of the day. These ashtrays would feature leather, high end metals and even specialized engravings by the manufacturer. 

But, just like the stand-alone ashtray, the vehicle ashtray began to die away and in 1994, vehicles began to be produced without them and instead, offer the buyer the option to include one from the dealer. 

Today, ashtrays are still used for the odd cigarette smoker, but they have also been making a small resurgence in popularity from the cigar aficionados of the world. Cigars, unlike cigarettes require a substantially longer time commitment to get through. On average, cigars take about 40 to 60 minutes to complete. Holding a cigar in your hand the entire time can quickly become taxing on your grip, not to mention, you will probably be engaged in some other activities at some point during that hour. To help solve this problem, cigar smokers implement a cigar ashtray to ease the burden of holding the cigar the entire time. 

Contrary to what some might think, cigar ashtrays are actually quite different than their cigarette ashtray peers. Ashtrays for cigars need to provide ample room for the cigar to sit and not be situated at an angle or smudged down into a tight space. 

A solid ashtray construction will see that the cigar is just resting above the indentation for ash collection. This will allow the cigar to still properly burn in an even manner. Using a cigarette ashtray for cigars will generally make the cigar burn unevenly, thus tampering with the quality of the smoking experience and leading to a premature disposal of the stick. The butt of the cigar should also be at an even level so the moisture from your saliva does not ruin the smoking end of the cigar. 

The material from which the ashtray is made is also another point of interest. Cheap plastic ashtrays should always be avoided. While the packaging may say they are resistant a burn, plastic is notoriously known for being damaged by heat and the chemicals and materials used in its construction have the potential to get into the burning end of the cigar, thus altering the smoke. As a rule of thumb, always try to purchase an ashtray made from glass or even a nicely polished stone. These materials impart the easiest cleanup job and will resist burn marks. 

Take a bit of time to hunt down the best ashtray for your home or office. There are a wide variety of designs that are out there on the market today. From variations in color, shape and size, the perfect ashtray should be one that achieves functionality without standing out like a sore thumb among your decor.

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By Luzzie Normand
Co-Founder & Editor; Neptune Cigars Inc.