Chequers Book Reviews
The Professor, Michael Knapp

Casinos and their Ashtrays: A Collector's Guide with Values and Casino Histories, Art Anderson (1994)

207 pages, perfect bound, $19.95 plus $2 postage, Art Anderson, P. O. Box 4103, Flint, MI 48504-0103

Art Anderson has published the essential reference guide to casino ashtrays. Although seen less frequently in the 1990's because smoking has fallen into disfavor, and because personalized printed or molded ashtrays are more expensive than plain versions, casino ashtrays were at one time a major form of advertising for casinos and added ambiance to their facilities. Like chips, tokens, and other forms of casino memorabilia, ashtrays can be valuable pieces of gaming history, and their designs reflect the same changes in ownership and logos that chips and tokens do.

The Anderson book begins with a discussion of the history of casino ashtrays, and discusses their design and manufacturing distinctions. The main body of the book consists of clear, detailed black and white photographs of thousands of types of ashtrays, with written descriptions of varieties as well. Anderson's cataloguing system allows for the addition of still different ashtray varieties which collectors will invariably find. Ashtrays from Nevada, Atlantic City, Colorado, Deadwood, Indian casinos and even riverboats are covered in the book.

Ashtrays are listed alphabetically by casino, and each new casino section contains a short history of the casino itself and often a photograph of a postcard or other picture of the casino. It is the history and photographs, not only of the ashtrays, but of the casinos themselves, which adds tremendous value to what might otherwise have been a mere listing of ashtrays. Each ashtray is given a distinct and consistent Anderson "catalog number" which collectors have come to use on an almost universal basis.

Although her name does not appear as a co-author, the Introduction gives credit for much of the historical information to Janice O'Neal, currently Vice President and Historian for the Casino Chips & Gaming Tokens Collectors Club, whose research into the history of Nevada and other casinos is among the most extensive known. Janice's assistance with Anderson's book is evident and has added significantly to the value of the book.

Although casino ashtrays have been collected and traded for many years, Anderson's book is the first to attempt to suggest a pricing guide for ashtrays. The sources of casino ashtrays for collectors are numerous: the casinos themselves rarely discourage the "liberation" of their ashtrays, realizing that they constitute a relatively inexpensive form of advertising when they are taken home and used outside the state of Nevada. Garage sales, flea markets, and antique shows are additional sources of ashtrays for collectors, as are other collectors and casino memorabilia dealers.

When Anderson's book was published, I can recall being shocked that even the most common ashtrays were listed with a price range of "$2-$4," when I had never paid more than $1 for an ashtray I'd added to my collection. I also remember thinking that eventually the market would catch up with Anderson's value suggestions as ashtrays became a more popular collectible and scarcer as well. That is exactly what is occurring, three years later. Even where Anderson's prices still seem high to many collectors, the clear value of his price guide (as is the case with all well-conceived price guides) is that it allows collectors to realize the relative values of casino ashtrays. Knowing, for example, that a particular ashtray's value in the Anderson book is $15, means that it is substantially less common than one he lists for $4. Regardless of the absolute values, that understanding is of considerable help to collectors who wish to trade, or to know the relative scarcity of the ashtrays in their collections.

Casinos and their Ashtrays is an indispensable book for any memorabilia collector interested in this area.