The mark of a good collector is that he or she concentrates on one item.  For years, I’ve collected beer bottles from around the world and although some are real keepers, after a while you only see brown and green bottles.  I have hundreds and only a few are really special.

With my love of aviation rekindled by working at the Toronto Aerospace Museum, I started looking at the offerings on eBay.  I’ve picked up some books, aircraft models and posters but what has really caught my eye are the ashtrays.  Strange choice perhaps but let’s look at the reasons that they were made.

Back when smoking was tolerated and actually enjoyed, the airlines saw items like ashtrays as cheap advertising.  They showed the logo and the cathphrases.  Now that smokers are being legislated into their basements, the supply of ashtrays is drying up.  That, to my mind, makes them worthwhile to collect.

Here’s a few of the ones I’ve picked up so far with some of the history behind them.


BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) was one of the great flag carriers.  They proudly flew the Union Jack from 1939 until 1974 when they became British Airways.  This fine piece is unused and beautiful in its design and simplicity.

KLM Delft

KLM – Royal Dutch Airlines is still one of my favorite airlines.  Their Dutch heritage is proudly displayed in their advertising.  This pair of handpainted Delft ashtrays came from different vendors and really show the individual brushstrokes of the artists as well as the traditional touches likes the groups of 3 dots in the inner edges.  KLM still celebrates by giving business and First Class passengers small ceramic houses.  I have 2 out of 50 something and eBay does a booming business as collectors bid to fill in their missing houses.

PAN AM Glass

What can you say about PAN AM?  Everyone knows the distinctive logo of Pan American Airways.  One of the greatest airlines ever to fly, now sadly best remembered for the bombing of one of their “Clipper” 747s over Lockerbie Scotland.  This item has seen some wear but still retains its beauty.


This one has seen some use.  Careful placement in front of the camera hides the big blotch of white paint on the pack and most of the biggest dents.  Trans World Airways is another of the late, great carriers of the golden age of air travel.  This one was made in Varese Italy by a company called S.C.O.T.A.  I don’t think Howard Hughes ever used this but a person can dream.

That’s it for now.  I’ve got 4 more to share with you and probably a dozen more on their way through the mail.  Let me know if you’re interested in seeing more. Clicking on any picture takes you to the original on my Flickr page.