They say that one is an item, two is a pair and three is a collection. I guess that I almost had a collection before I even knew it. I received my first cigarette case from a friend’s mother who left it to me in her will. At the time, I was a smoker which I presume is why she left it to me. Even after I stopped smoking, I cherished the case because it was from her. I acquired my second cigarette case quite by accident. It had been left by a former resident in a hotel owned by my grandparents. I carried these two cases around with me, packed in with my silver, for more than twenty years before they became the seeds of a magnificent obsession.
IN THE BEGINNING
In May 1995, I was living in Madison, Wisconsin and hanging out with my friend Susan in Sauk City one Saturday. We walked into a resale shop, and I came across a cigarette case for $2 and bought it. To this day, I have no idea why I did that, but a collection was born. From that moment on, I was possessed. I went junking at least one day of every weekend, sometimes traveling 100 miles one way. I’d start out at New York Bagel around the corner from my apartment, get a cinnamon raisin bagel with light regular cream cheese and a cup of hazelnut coffee, and off I would go for the day. As luck would have it, I was working for the State of Wisconsin, and my job required traveling throughout the state. But, I digress.
A SHORT ATTENTION SPAN
I got bored collecting JUST cigarette cases, so I expanded to collecting anything that HELD cigarettes – cigarette boxes, cigarette dispensers or smoking sets. While at a city-wide garage sale, I purchased a walnut cigarette box with a glass lid for $3. The seller was asking $1 for the matching ashtray. While I didn’t collect ashtrays and thought $1 was a bit much, I purchased it as well and threw both items in the back of the car. Months later, I found out that I had purchased a mid-century Higgins Glass set worth several hundred dollars!
A HISTORY OF THE 20th CENTURY IS BORN
At the same time I was collecting cases, boxes and dispensers, I began purchasing lapel pins. We were approaching the Millennium, and I thought that it would be interesting to illustrate a history of the 20th century with these pins. I also began to notice that ashtrays were far more interesting than cigarette cases and far more affordable. So, I transferred the idea of illustrating the history of the 20th century with lapel pins to illustrating the history of the 20th century as seen through ashtrays.
I eventually expanded my search to include any items of interest that pertained to cigarette smoking, such as magazine ads, sheet music and promotion items given away by the tobacco companies. I even began picking up anti-smoking information in my travels, as well.
Fifteen years later, I have more than 3,500 items that I would one day like to donate to a museum, along with more than 700 cigarette promotion items, 500 magazine ads and an ever-growing library.