I don’t smoke! So why do I have an ashtray?

Most of us that can are working from home these days. We are all uncertain how long this is going to last.

It is strange not going into our stores and seeing the objects and collections we take for granted seeing all the time and working out how we will interpret them.I truly love a lot of aspects about my job. The power of storytelling through objects has always appealed to me. Objects can be interpreted in different ways and the multiple meanings can mean different things to different people.

As I look around my new makeshift office space at home at the amount of books I took home with the plan of catching up on reading and research, a small object catches my eye. It is a Gallaher Blues ashtray. I am not nor ever have been a smoker but this object means a lot to me. Just like at the museum this object tells a story, it evokes emotion, it means something to me.

Image: Gallaher Blues ashtray, a gift from Viv Pollock
Gallaher Blues ashtray, a gift from Viv Pollock

I was given this ashtray by my colleague in 2011. It was her own ashtray, she was a smoker and it was a token gift for me to remember the exciting year I had just spent as an intern in my dream job working in the History Dept at the Ulster Museum. My project was to research and document the Gallaher Tobacco Collections. There’s still traces of ash in the corners. I was fascinated by Tom Gallaher and how he achieved so much so quickly through his sometimes ruthless determination and hard work. You can find out more about our Gallaher Tobacco collections in our Collections Highlight Tour         

Image: Cigarette card picture of Tom Gallaher
Cigarette card picture of Tom Gallaher

In a museum setting we often take objects that might seem ordinary everyday objects, a piece of blotting paper, a piece of wood, a broken shard or a coin. But these seemingly everyday objects were the blotting paper Sir Edward Carson used when he signed the Ulster Solemn League & Covenant, it triggers telling how the Ulster Day campaign came about and the consequences of it. A piece of wood that was actually a piece of wood from one of the coffins of Napoleon Bonaparte that tell a story of revolution in an ever changing world and the impact the revolution had on this island. In a museum an object is never just an object! Sometimes as a curator it is hard to find out an object’s story but every object has one.

This ashtray represents a time in my career when things were easier, I was just starting out. I did what I was told! It represents a discovery for us as an institution about the Gallaher Tobacco collections we hold.

Right now though for me on the first anniversary that we lost Viv, it simply represents a gift from a mentor, a colleague and friend.

Thanks for the ashtray Viv, thanks for the memories! I won't forget.

Image: Dr. Vivienne Pollock
Dr. Vivienne Pollock