Essential 60’s Accessories: Ashtrays and Lighters

Art Deco standing ash tray

Let’s step back in time and step inside a typical home of the 1960’s.

We’ll use my modest Miami, Oklahoma dwelling, of course. It was a 1950’s era tract home sitting on a modestly traveled street. Very typical of what WWII veterans were raising families in.

If you have time-traveled from the 21st century, the first thing you will notice when you step through my front door (three small staggered vertical windows placed at adult-viewing level) is a pervading odor of stale cigarette smoke.

If you see me sitting on the carpet, playing with a pile of toys, please note that I am completely oblivious to the odor. Second-hand smoke was a fact of life for a kid of the 60’s, completely unnoticed. There are many different accessories for the home that we all use everyday ranging from toiletries and kitchen ware, to coffee table books and coasters for your drinks. In the 1960’s coasters and kitchenware were both essential things to have to furnish your modern office or home, but ashtrays and desktop lighters were must a have. They were used by most people whereas today’s home furnishings and modern office furniture will usually only have them as nostalgic decorations, if at all.

Hand grenade lighter

You will also spot a variety of smoker’s accessories. These include ash trays of various shapes and sizes, as well as desktop cigarette lighters. No properly-furnished 1960’s dwelling would be complete without them. Even if it turned out that the owners didn’t smoke, odds are that any guests who came over would. It would be an ungracious host indeed who didn’t provide an ashtray for a visitor.

Ashtrays and desktop lighters were ubiquitous home furnishings that could be found in an amazing variety of shapes and sizes. Some gadgets, such as the depicted hand grenade model, consisted of both a lighter and ashtray when separated. The image of the brass, hand-decorated Indian ashtrays seen to the right spurred childhood memories for me. We had one of the “sultan’s shoes” sitting on the coffee table, and it was transformed into a speedboat when pushed across the carpeted floor. I must have spent hours sliding that little shoe around making appropriate motorboat noises.

Mom tolerated me playing with ornamental ashtrays, but desktop lighters were strictly hands-off, of course.

Naturally, that didn’t stop me from playing with them when mom wasn’t around.

It’s difficult to effectively stress to today’s younger generations just how deeply smoking was embedded into 1960’s society. Every restaurant had an ashtray at every table. Hotel and motel rooms featured cheap ones, the assumption being that guests would likely make off with them. Grocery stores would feature a free-standing ashtray at each front door, placed there in the hope that you would finish your cigarette before grabbing a cart.

Sultan’s shoe ashtray

Cars had ashtrays on back seat armrests, and perhaps another one that pulled out of the back of the front bench seat.

Floor-standing ashtrays were found in banks, hospitals, churches, school gymnasiums, stores, and office buildings. Sitting before the desk of a doctor, lawyer, or insurance salesman would mean that there was an ashtray or ashtray/lighter combo within your reach.

Mom’s weekly visit to the beauty shop would mean that she would grab a small ashtray from a collection on a desk and carry it with her as she went from shampooing to sitting under a huge hair dryer. My own visits to the barber shop would be accompanied by the patrons in line using a couple of community trays, and the barber having his own personal model, right next to the jar full of blue Barbacide.

Mom gave up the habit about 1970, and got rid of all of the smoking paraphernalia around the house. That meant that Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Russell would have to use a small saucer during their visits.

Nowadays, of course, smoking is looked upon as a vice. No self-respecting smoker would dream of lighting up in someone’s home without express permission from the host. Isn’t it interesting that forty years ago, the shoe was on the other foot? It would have been considered the height of ill-mannerliness to fail to provide the smoking guest with all of the appropriate accessories for his/her use.

3 thoughts on “Essential 60’s Accessories: Ashtrays and Lighters”

  1. I can remember my parents and relatives smoking freely in the house and in the car, maybe with the “wing” window cracked a little for smoke. Ashtrays everywhere. I can also remember, somewhat unhappily, when I was pregnant with my son in 1987 and the woman in the office cubby next to me lighting up cigarette after cigarette; I complained and nothing was done as the boss also smoked. What a different world, thank goodness. I’m glad smoking indoors is taboo now!

  2. Some high schools had smoking areas for the students. The rest of us smoked in the restrooms.
    God forbid you opened the door to the teachers’ lounge, because billows of smoke would roll out.

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