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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Collecting Ashtrays

( Article orginally published July 1959 )

Of the many souvenirs the Herman Ewers of Wichita, Kans., and Cascade, Colo., have brought home from their travels through more than 70 countries, the commonest of all, ashtrays has proved the most fascinating.

Mrs. Ewers has over 300 ashtrays displayed on narrow shelves against the knotty pine walls of her summer cabin in Cascade. These ashtrays are made of a wide variety of materials, and each one brings back a host of memories.

Some of these ashtrays are very valuable. Many are gifts from friends and from famous people the Ewers have, met in their travels. At least a few are antiques, and each tray has a story.

Lucy Ewers first started with a collection of bells. After she had about a hundred of these, she realized she had two ashtrays that were unique. They were from the ships Bremen and Columbus, both of which were sunk during the war so that no one except another ashtray collector could have such souvenirs.

She decided that having one ashtray from each famous ship, plane, restaurant, hotel, night club, and city visited would be a better collection for her than bells. Ashtrays are more economical since many such places gladly present them without cost when asked. Trays are easier and less costly to transport since they are usually small and light weight. And they are excellent mementos since each can be connected at a glance with the place it was acquired. In addition to being decorative, and conversation pieces, they are useful.

Ten years ago Mr. Ewers' physician prescribed travel for his health. Since then the Ewers have spent about four months out of every year abroad. They sailed on great ships to Europe, the Mediterranean, the South Seas, South America, North Cape, and the Caribbean. They have traveled on great air lines and famous intercontinental railways. Each is represented by an ashtray, unique, handsome.

Some of their plane souvenirs are marked "Fly Air Jordan," reminding them of a flight from Cairo to Jerusalem; "Marrakech," from Casablanca to Marrakech; and "K.L.M. Reali Lines Aeree Olandeii," the Dutch airline from Curacao to Laguirra, Venezuela.

Perhaps a listing of some of the materials will give an indication of the wide variety to be found in the collection. There are brass, porcelain, plastic, tin, cloisonne, satsuma, silver, old English, bone china, copper, iron, pottery, alabaster, glass, shell, wood, and many combinations of these materials.

One of the most valuable ashtrays was made for them in Portugal by a friend, Commander Standish Hall of the U.S. Navy, out of a medal belonging originally to his father. The large silver medal, embedded in a brass tray, was struck about 1879, celebrating the centennial of a famous sea battle by John Paul Jones, in September of 1779. On one side ts the- portrait of Jones, on the other, of his ship.

Another, somewhat similar ashtray they had made of a medal embedded in brass. This medal was struck in 1888 by the "Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Boston," of which Mrs. Ewers' stepfather was a member. These most unusual and valuable ashtrays are in contrast to the simplest in the collection of glass from the Missouri Pacific, and from the New York Central railways.

The oldest ashtray is actually an ancient oil lamp from Lebanon, made of pottery, with its handle at one side and tiny spout at the other. It was given them in Baalbeck, Lebanon, by "Papa David," a famous antiques dealer. The newest item in the collection is a small silver tray, with a rosy lustre on the surface (due to the native finish), from a brand new, air-conditioned hotel in Bangkok, Siam.

Two of the most unique trays are also among the handsomest-and the funniest! ;A striking, large, brass tray has a brass airplane hovering over it, a gift of Olive Ann Beech of Beech Aircraft Co. of Wichita. And a china ashtray from Panama, sure to rouse a laugh from any guest to whom it is passed, is a reclining bathing beauty whose shapely legs swing idly back and forth in the air as she fans.

There are so many that several drawers are filled with ashtrays which cannot be displayed, and the Ewers have pieces from their collection scattered for use all over their large living room. These include a green pottery one from the famous Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs where the Olympic skating tournaments are held in the Broadmoor Ice Palace. Others are of copper, of wood from Cuba, a hardwood hand-carved realistic bear from Bali complete to sharp teeth, and a champagne ad from France.

One of the finest ashtrays in their collection was picked up in a shop in Seville. It shows the King of Spain in uniform, the Queen with a fur scarf across her shoulders, and their infant son, the Prince, in an elaborate bassinet-the boy who was later to become the Alphonso deposed from the throne. This ashtray is marked at the top with a crown. and the words "Recuerdo del April 1907" in gold beneath it. The whole Js very handsome in white and gold raised figures on a pale olive background.

An old flowered Bavarian porcelain ashtray marked Excelsior Hotel Ernst Koln is from the hotel across from the Cologne Cathedral bombed out during the war. Three ashtrays are from a hotel in Cairo, Egypt, one from years ago, and two picked up in the debris at different times after fire destroyed the hotel. Still others are of amber glass from the earthquake-proof Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, and one of tiny roses painted on Bavarian china from the Ritz in Paris.

In addition to the oil lamp from Baalbeck, another with Biblical connection is dated 1924, made from a tree of Lebanon. A coin from Lebanon is embedded in the polished base, and the bark has been left on the trunk from which the tray was cut. Two ashtrays from Japan are made of satsuma.

British ashtrays include coronation souvenirs. And a New Zealand one shows a picture of the weird kiwi bird, now nearly extinct, a pre-historic left-over with scarcely any feathers, and unable to fly.

Several were presented by famous people to the Ewers. There is one from the daughter of a President of Chili, who is the head of a big wine company there. A black glass one was sent as a Christmas card by Paul Reinhold of the Metropolitan Opera, showing a white snowman on the black glass and giving the season's greetings. A cigarette box was presented by officials of the Kungsholm, showing, on seals, all the countries visited on their South Pacific cruises. And a brass tray from the Bremen was given by Commander Perry Oakes.

Some have a special sentimental connotation for Mrs. Ewers, such as the one from the Park Hotel in Istanbul where her father died when he was on the Hoover Food Commission at the end of World War I. A gift from the Fung family, which is one of those that founded Hong Kong, is a Chinese slipper about two inches long, of metal, with a hinged tongue inside.

There are other outstanding items in the collection. One is an old Turkish coin mounted in silver; another, an ancient Chinese coin from Hong Kong set in silver. A roulette wheel on china, comes from Monte Carlo. A cut-through shell was bought in a cameo shop in Pompeii, Italy. A tray of Danish porcelain shows the beautiful scene of Hans Christian Andersen's mermaid in Copenhagen harbor.

A hand-carved wood ashtray with four legs comes from Pago Pago, Samoa; one of butterfly wings on silver from the Fiji Islands; and a wooden water buffalo above a water hole, from the Philippines.

A triangular-shaped ashtray of very thin brass is from the Hotel La Mamounia where Churchill stayed in Marrakech; a large flat silver one from Tlemsen, Algeria, where the ancient Roman wall is found; and a very crude one from Huku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands.

One of the most unusual in shape is a round picture in a medallion held up above an ashtray, showing a scene of the beach and hotel at Punte del Este, Uruguay. One, in amber glass, is from a Buenos Aires night club, and another in square china is from the Baglioni Palace Hotel Majestic at Florence.

A hand-carved, painted, wooden ashtray is from Dubrovnik. A heavy brass one, from Nazareth, is only two inches square, and most unusual one, recently acquired, is large, of white china shaped like an old man's hat with deep crown and wide brim, from the Fujiya Hotel, Miyanoshita, Japan.

Perhaps the heaviest is the top of a spittoon, of heavy brass, from the train that runs from Oran to Algeria. Two very old ones of alabaster, small and translucent, are from Luxur in Egypt and from Memphis, with a scarab carved on the edge of the latter.

Friends had another amusing one made up for them at the Cafe de la Paix in Paris, of metal, painted, dated April 9, 1958, and with their signatures. Another, a martini ad, was presented to them by Father Martini, a young Catholic priest. The most modernistic in the collection is of black lines on white china, with two raised masks on one edge, representing Tragedy and Comedy.

Mrs. Ewers has identified each tray with a small white plaster patch on the back, giving the place it was acquired and the date. The trays are arranged in rows on shallow wooden shelves between the exposed beams of the walls at the end of the long living room. They are sorted according to country or region rather than material or other category.

Each look at the walls is a reliving of their travels, a revival of delightful memories of far places, with their exotic sights and scents and sounds, and a remembrance of dear distant friends.


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