Smoking may be off the to-do list today, but this midcentury social activity spawned some of the most intriguing atomic collectibles. While you may not be a smoker, there’s no doubt that retro ashtrays could lend a pop of color to your midcentury ranch’s decor.
Arguably the most common of the retro ashtrays is the boomerang. With a shape that is as eye-catching as the various glaze textures and colors it comes in, the iconic boomerang ashtray came in every material possible, from ceramic from the ’40s, glass in the ’50s and Bakelite in the ’60s and ’70s. Flip them over to find the maker’s mark, often embossed, painted or simply stuck on with a foil sticker. Collecting is easy, as flea markets and vintage shops alike are full of retro ashtrays ranging in price depending on the condition and designer.
Have a vintage Fiesta set? Pick up a Homer Laughlin Fiesta ashtray original for $200. Crazy about glaze? You can track down a beautiful Brush-McCoy round ashtray for around $25. Love that atomic starburst design from Franciscan Ware? Expect to pay about $20—if you can find one.
Smoking was a classy activity, so ashtrays weren’t just decorative, they were commemorative. While ashtrays act as time capsules of their respective eras, the smoke glass ashtrays of the ’50s and ’60s were something special. Often given as souvenirs for hotels or company gifts, these striking ashtrays feature intricate designs depicting great architecture or scenes ripped from the headlines. Popular designs to collect include rockets or other space-age imagery, such as astronauts or satellites, though even the more common corporate buildings are fairly attractive as well.
Because these ashtrays were popular, finding them at a good price is fairly easy today. Small ones can be had at around $12 with larger ones featuring rare art clocking in at $40 or more. Finding smoke glass ashtrays in good condition is pretty easy, but many can suffer a wearing off of the design and foil, especially if it was a well-used ashtray back in the day.
The beautiful ashtrays of the midcentury are a great insight into how the modernists lived: Even a bowl where you dumped your ash had to be chic. While you may have left your tobacco in the past (or maybe you never picked it up), there’s no reason you can’t keep that tobacciana here in the present to keep things stylish and groovy.