Many collectibles are those items from days gone by… Things technology has rendered obsolete and replaced with some new gadget if not completely new technology. Typewriters, radios, old tube televisions, telephones, even those first ‘brick’ cellular phones catch collectors’ fancies.
But what of the objects culturally removed? Like Black Americana, old ‘Injun’ cocktail shakers, anti-Japanese WWII cartoons, and other racist renderings have been removed from our culture for their inappropriateness. Collectors rush to preserve these (horrid) moments in time.
Now that smokers are the new lepers, ashtrays and smoking-related collectibles and memorabilia (tobacciana) are part of the culturally forbidden items which spawn collections.
From large art pottery pieces to small practical portable personal ash trays, from large standing floor antique ashtrays to glass snack sets with ashtrays and places for resting cigs, from cheap business promotional give-a-ways to unique art works, there are many varieties of ashtrays to collect. Collecting vintage and retro ashtrays has been popular for the past few years, but now that smoking bans are fast becoming the norm, fewer companies are producing ashtrays. This makes ‘collecting ashtrays’ nearly the only way one can get a tray that’s not an impromptu empty pop can.
But tobacciana isn’t just a practical way for smokers to get an ashtray… Nor is it just about ashtrays, pipes and lighters. There’s more to tobacciana than I can list… But one area of collecting tobacco items covers the evolution of smoking very well; tobacco advertising.
To collect the old advertising is to watch the smoking go from plentiful and cool, to virtually nonexistent and tightly regulated. A person looking at a series of tobacco product ads is to get an education in more than corporate history or nifty graphics.
Old advertising once boasted of more than smoking’s cool factor with celebrity endorsements and photographs, providing pop culture collectibles. The early medical claims can fall into quack medicine, and the cover-up is great fodder (evidence) for conspiracy theorists. Those interested women’s history the history can watch the marketing to and manipulation of women based on their status across many time periods. Ads prior to and just after 1911 document the U.S government’s break up the American Tobacco Company trust into many small companies. Watching big tobacco fight back from multiple forms of legal chokeholds is impressive from marketing and propaganda points of view.
Most interesting are our present day dealings with tobacco. In our efforts to clean up smoking and it’s ill effects, we are not just trying to prevent public use but public display. We aren’t just limiting and controlling ads but lobbying Capital Hill and pressuring the motion-picture industry and TV broadcasters to keep smoking out of sight.
Nor are we content with just trying to disinfect and sanitize our present; we want to do this with our past too.
Book publishers doctor photographs of authors, cartoons are cut to remove offensive smoking scenes, and posters and stamps of political leaders, artists, and others are created to honor icons sans cigs.
What does all of this mean for the collector?
Well, it will make for a means of identification I suppose… For example, the blemish-free author photo in Goodnight Moon will help collectors date copies as pre 2007. But going smoke-free also presents a new area of collecting: The preservation of smoking images.
While it’s hard to look at a stamp of Bogey without his cigarette, can you imagine Casablanca without him smoking? (What would doctored films mean for noir — could the genre properly exit at all if smoking were removed? Talk about a Bogart!)
Removing all evidence of smoking is an attempt to present us as we were not.
In our quest to culturally clean-up, we are washing away classics & icons as well as our history. I sure hope there will be plenty of collectors out there working to preserve it.
If not, some future alien race will never know that we humans smoked. Even if smoking isn’t the end of us, shouldn’t they — and we — remember that we once did?