The Case for Tobacco

Since 1944, the percentage of people in the United States who smoke tobacco fell from 45% to less than 22%.

That’s a great thing for public health.

And, perhaps, an even better thing for those of us who love to collect old, rare things.

People who quit smoking tend to toss anything and everything associated with the habit. Some of these items (called “tobacciana” by collectors) can be works of art.

Vintage St. Clair glass ashtray

Vintage St. Clair glass ashtray


Clever ashtrays often served a double purpose. As shown here, each person got his or her own ashtray. When the party was over, the ashtrays were placed back into the flower, where they reverted to a pretty knick-knack. Other ashtrays were made by famous porcelain manufacturers. Still others, more often thrown away, were given away as promotional items.

Floral metal ashtray, circa 1940

Floral metal ashtray, circa 1940

Table lighters and cigarette holders graced even the most humble coffee tables.

Lighter and goblet, circa 1940, Occupied Japan

Lighter and goblet, circa 1940, Occupied Japan

And elaborately designed cards promoted tobacco use – many are highly sought after today. In fact, a world record price of $2,800,000 was paid in America for a single card in 2007! (No, none of these, sad to say).

Will's cigarette cards, 1930s

Will’s cigarette cards, 1930s

The dwindling number of tobacco users creates the potential that tobacco-related items could become scarce – and scarce can mean valuable. But, as with any other collectible, quality and authenticity make a difference.

If you’d like to start a collection of tobacciana, seek out unusual items. Go for quality — handmade, one-of-a-kind ashtrays. Seek out items that people would probably not keep around for long, such as lighters or ashtrays that were given away to promote a product.

And if you are a smoker and decide to quit, keep in mind the advice from Kovell’s: When you quit smoking, keep your tobacciana collectibles. One day, tobacco use will be a thing of the past – and you’ll have a collection that could be worth something!

About sarathurston

I'm a marketing communications writer who also loves antiques and collectibles. You can find my shop on Etsy at
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