Between the wars, when cigarette smoking was fashionable, the elegant cigarette box became both a status symbol and a practical accessory at parties.
In the twenties and thirties, the cigarette box held pride of place on the sideboard, venturing on to the dining table when the meal was over or on to occasional tables during cocktail parties. A cigarette after dinner was seen as the civilized and sophisticated way to cap a delicious meal and no cocktail party was complete without a blue mist of cigarette smoke hanging languidly in the air.
By 1919, manufactured cigarettes outsold all other tobacco products and, by 1930, women made up a small but significant section of the market. They and their male counterparts were in the market for lavish smoking accessories in the latest, most costly designs.
Everyone who was anyone had a portable cigarette case in silver or gold or one with a bright,
boldly patterned enamel design. In the home, a cigarette box could be an eye
catching centrepiece, reflecting one's stylish good taste. And, in the office, a fine cigarette box made a similar statement on an executive's desk.
A WEALTH OF MATERIALS
Many cigarette boxes were made of silver, or even gold, lined with wood to preserve the taste of the cigarettes. Bases were often covered with felt to prevent scratching of polished wood
surfaces. Other boxes would be made of wood, often inlaid with ivory. Still more would be of lacquer or the new materials provided by the rapid advances of industry.
Bakelite was one such material. Perspex or Plexiglas (invented in 1930) gave scope to the designer
who wanted to work with clear materials. Cigarette boxes were also made in glass - usually mirror glass. Chromed base metal figured it many designs.
Shapes were very varied. Traditional styles apart, some followed the clean geometric styles of
the period, some had boldly coloured figurative designs or floral patterns, while some mixed the two. Then there were the many novelty designs which usually took the form of mechanical cigarette dispensers.
Cigarette lighters were an extremely important accessory. Dunhill made table lighters in various shapes and sizes, including a celebrated
ball-shaped lighter in 9-carat gold. They also made large table lighters with 8-day clocks built in. Other companies made table lighters in glass and Perspex. Ronson combined a cigarette lighter and cigarette dispenser in the shape of a cocktail bar, complete with chrome trimmings and a barman shaking a cocktail.
Ashtrays were made in a vast array of styles and in a wide range of materials. Glass ones were frequently chunky and rectangular. Floor-standing models were often of glass, brass or chrome, fitted into wooden or metal smokers' stands that were at the right height when the user was sitting down. There were novelty ashtrays of all sorts and combined lighters and ashtrays were common.
BOXES, ASHTRAYS AND LIGHTERS
In the years between the World Wars, smoking equipment was made in a large range of materials, from traditional silver to mirror glass and the new plastics. The designs also ranged from the traditional to the snappiest deco motifs. At their best, items can be both stylish and amusing. Many are
delightfully decorative whether or not you use them for smoking. Cigarette boxes can, of course, be used to hold a variety of other items.
Small oval ashtrays made in the 1920s were set with a seated lady dressed in a modest bathing costume. Novelty ashtrays
included holders in which to store unlit cigarettes ready for use, and were adorned with amusing spotted cats or
dogs. Many were mode in Germany or Japan.
Circular glass ashtrays were sometimes set in a miniature rubber car tyre. Tyre manufacturers produced these for promotional purposes, and they are still made today. Prices for ashtrays rise according to attractiveness and rarity.
Novelty lighters were popular in the 1930s. Heavy chrome-plated lighters were fashionable, often made in the shape of aeroplanes or rockets. Realistic golf and cricket
ball lighters were also popular.
Small repairs can be made to lighters but they are worth more if they are in full working order - replacement parts can be
difficult to find.
Prices for all smoking accessories range from the reasonable to the wickedly expensive, depending on the design and the materials used.
Dunhill's of St James, London supplied luxury and everyday smoker's requisites to a distinguished
clientele. Their catalogues in the 1930s list a wide range of cigarette boxes, including
wooden boxes inlaid with bold geometric designs and others in onyx, lacquer, shagreen lined with white cedar, white metal and
Some of their boxes had extra features. In Dunhill's cigarette dispensers the cigarettes rose up as he lid was opened, or the action of lifting the 'id lit a flame. Their novelty boxes had combination locks or were designed in the shape of a
coffin. Other companies and individual designers produced some stunning designs. Lalique's 1932 catalogue shows a selection of glass cigar and cigarette boxes decorated with swirling patterns. In London the Sand Blast Decorative Glass Works produced a rigidly
linear box in black glass.
Jean Goulden, the French designer, produced a striking silver box decorated with enamels, the design looking like a fragment from a broken Greco-Roman mosaic. Jean Dunand was another designer to work in enamels, as well as lacquer, producing boxes with bold images in black, red and gold.
MONEY TO BURN
In New York and Paris, Tiffany and Cartier utilized their jewellery expertise to produce fabulous cigarette boxes. In this
no-expense-spared end of the market, a classic box of the time was made in white onyx with a black onyx catch and silver hinges. Its lid was decorated with two asymmetrical lines of green malachite and a small square of inset lapis lazuli carved with a spray of flowers.
Good examples for your collection are most likely to be found in antiques shops and at auction but there's still a chance of snapping up an unconsidered trifle at a bargain price if you scour jumbles and car boot sales.
It might be worth picking up a job lot of lighters at auction just so you can cannibalize the parts and restore any interesting lighters in your collection to full working order.
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