Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cigarettes and tablesettings

Forget your political correctness for a moment. I am a non-smoker; in fact, I never learned to properly inhale so I literally cannot smoke, even if I wanted to.  Having confessed this much, I also don't object to guests who want to enjoy a cigarette with cocktails or after dinner. I don't banish them from the house for this purpose. It's rude. Don't argue with me about it and don't rush in with warnings of the danger of second-hand smoke inhalation. I know all about it; I don't deny it's validity. I just can't be rude to guests.
So if I die from it, it's my business. This is all by way of preface to my actual topic which is smoking at table.
Smoking at table was as common as smoking everywhere else was the norm (at the office, in hospitals, etc.) up until the mid 1980s when anti-smoking campaigns turned ugly and cutthroat.  I have memories of people in restaurants smoking throughout their meal while some elected to wait until that moment of rest between the meal proper and dessert. I have noted in vintage etiquette books that smoking during dinner was frowned upon in private homes where you were an invited guest. The consensus seems to be that the classic moment for cigarettes was before dessert was served as this was a natural time let your food settle and relax before the sweet was brought on. So how did hostesses provide for their smoking guests when entertaining ?
I collect every vintage book I can find about table setting. There is an extraordinary abundance of such titles published between 1940 and 1969 as these were the earliest books about entertaining, lavishly illustrated with photographs and exhaustive coverage of how to lay the table from cloth to china, napery, flatware, floral arrangements and even decorative objects artistically placed to give your dinner, luncheon, or buffet a theme.

Most of those titles I own do not discuss or show a table setting with smoking articles. The one exception that proves the rule is the classic Tiffany Table Settings (1960) which reveals an obsession with finding creative ways to provide the smokes and the igniters at table.  This book deserves its own blog to analyze its contents, it teachings, its thinly-veiled snobbery and it's self-serving merchandising but I have no quarrel with those aspects of this work. This post is to bring back a moment in history when the socially ambitious hostess aspired to entertain in the same manner as the elite society dames whose ideas are purveyed in this work. And Tiffany was selling a concept where the table not only boasted of fine china and cutlery but decorative objects that Tiffany could sell also graced your table. This included all manner of high-end containers for cigarettes and matches or table lighters. See for yourself.
Vermeil cup holding cigarettes.  The shell salt cellars must be intended
for ashtrays since there is a sterling salt and pepper set by the centerpiece.

Another Sterling cup and saucer for the smokes. The rhinoceros figurines
were a Tiffany exclusive. Throughout the book they promote their
commissioned animal figurine collection by an Italian artist, specially
designed for "table decorations and centerpiece themes" but to "fit in with
equal ease into any part of the decor of the home."

Here the shell salt cellar holds the cigarettes with a table ligter discretely
tucked behind

Mrs. J. Gordon Douglas uses her 18th century table ornaments, including
"a pair of sterling wine-tasters, doubling as ashtrays."

Understated modern crystal bowls for the smokes in a Baroque setting with
Capo di Monte porcelain centerpiece. 

"Yellow daisies ...mixed with cigarettes in black basalt
demitasse cups provide the perfect decorative accent."

Unbridled genius! Note the sterling porringers used for ashtrays and jiggers
to contain the cigarettes.

Plain undecorated crystal for the cigarette urns and ashtrays. A perfectly
simple Summer Table (of course, the crystal is Tiffany)


  1. It seemed like the setting is an Italian home design, because of the utensils with details, plates with flowers and glass collection.

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