Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Greatest Accomplishment of My Adult Life

That would be quitting smoking.  It was one of the most challenging and difficult achievements that I can think of.  Of my life.  While I was never a heavy smoker, giving it up took me several years and many false starts before I finally succeeded.  And it was one of the best, if not the best things I’ve ever done.  That is, except marrying Boy.

I kind of miss the good old days, though.

I started dabbling with smoking shortly after college when I took a share in a beach house on Long Island and fell in with a fast, party-boy set.  Cocktails and cigarettes.  Late nights out.  Fun.  The party moved on to Manhattan when the summer was over and I met and then started to date a smoker who enjoyed the hi-life just as much as I did and, well, it’s easy to start smoking on a regular basis under those circumstances . . .

But times and friends and priorities change, and eventually I could no longer deny the cold hard truth that only an idiot destined for an untimely and ungodly death would continue to puff away in this day and age.  And so after more failed efforts than I care to admit I finally quit.

One of the things I enjoyed about smoking, apart from the physical act of doing it, was collecting the paraphernalia available to help one support the habit, such as ashtrays, cigarette boxes, etc.  Known in the collecting world as "Tobacciana", there’s a lot of it out there to choose from ranging from tacky throw-away junk to exquisitely beautiful objects from the likes of Asprey and Cartier.

Over the years I assembled quite a collection by haunting antiques stores and shows, trolling eBay, and always keeping an eye out for interesting examples to add to my collection.  I bought silver cigarette boxes, often engraved with names of long-departed swells, silver ashtrays, and ceramic ashtrays emblazoned with the names of fabled night spots or legendary hotels, such as the Stork Club or Hotel George V.

I collected engraved silver and enameled match box covers, antique match-strikes, and little silver and porcelain cups for holding cigarettes on tables during dinner parties.  I still have them all.  They are too beautiful and have too many fond associations for me to want to get rid of them.  While the ashtrays have long since been stored away in cupboards I haven’t put the silver cigarette boxes away.

We keep them out still, along with the more decorative match boxes and match strikes, since they are really quite lovely to look at and do wonders for table-scapes as well.  Besides, one still needs a place to put matches used to light candles and fires in one’s rooms.

The Richard Rogers' living room at "Rockmeadow"
(note ashtrays and cigarette cups)

Looking through old decorating magazines and books I’m often interested to see that up into the late 1970s ashtrays and cigarettes were almost always seen on tables in the smarter featured residences.  I recently was flipping through my copies of Dorothy Rogers’ My Favorite Things: A Personal Gude to Decorating and Entertaining and The House In My Head, books that I first read with vicarious and thrilling pleasure as a boy, and was surprised to see smoking paraphernalia on virtually every table.  I was also amused to read her helpful suggestion that a successful hostess should always be sure to have plenty of cartons of extra cigarettes on hand for parties.  My, how times have changed.

The same ashtrays and cigarette cups in the living room in their next house

Once a smoker, I’m convinced one can never again become a non-smoker, only an ex-smoker.  It's like drinking -- once a drunk always a drunk, whether wet or dry.  Although I quit smoking long ago it took me several years before I stopped catching myself regularly thinking -- usually with a cocktail in hand -- "Wouldn’t it be great to have a cigarette right now?  Wouldn’t it be terrific to feel that good old nicotine rush again?”  After a while the frequency of these reveries subsided, but I still catch myself thinking the same thing every once in a great while.

To be honest, I could pick up smoking again in a heartbeat and probably would if the consequences weren’t so obviously vile and horrible.  But they are truly awful so I won’t.  However, as I’ve heard other ex-smokers also admit, if I knew I had a finite period to live, perhaps a couple of months only, I’d probably say “Hey, what the hell, why not? What have I got to lose?”  And then reach for that trusty pack of Marlboro Lites once more . . .

All photos, except those of the Rogers' living rooms, by Boy Fenwick.  Photos of the Rogers' living rooms are from "My Favorite Things" and "The House in My Head" by Dorothy Rogers


  1. Oh Reggie Darling! I have a silver cigarette box just like those. Even to the engraved signatures! It was a present to my father from his ushers at my parents' wedding. My father no longer smokes. My parents are no longer married. But I keep the damn box on the damn coffee table. Oh, and I don't smoke either. It works for chocolate...

  2. i totally agree. although i have hated cigarettes and cigarette smoke all my life- probably the result of being the child of the most avid chain smokers ever to have walked the face of earth, my house was as smokey as a nightclub five minutes after they arose every morning- the look and accoutrements of smoking are elegant and and even i have a collection of ashtrays that i inherited from my grandmother and my parents. i even keep several out just because i love the way they look and there have been the occasional guest (only very VERY special ones) whom i have allowed to smoke in my house and i love being able to accommodate them with a cool ashtray rather than something generic or bland. also, sometimes i use them as candleholders.

  3. It's been over sixteen years since my last smoke and it is only in the last three years that I can say that I don't think about it anymore.
    I am a true addict and know that I could not have even a puff...
    or I would be right back.
    I agree, end of the world? Light me up.
    However, If my beloved husband was no longer and I were to date?
    I would never, ever date a smoker- disgusting!
    And I don't even feel like a hypocrite.

  4. Did I spy some matchbox covers carved by our grandfather?

    And, dear Reggie, I am very, very happy that you and Boy quit the evil habit. I want you both in my life for as long as possible.

    love, Sister

  5. Very poignant comment about the profusion of ashtrays that one used to see in houses, and indeed in my own, when I was a smoker. This abode is the first where I have put all such things away, (and some are truly pretty), except for the cigarette box and a pocket cheroot box, which make up a complement of all things silver on my coffee table. (I always felt that to be the consummate host one should cater for all guests' needs, but now, if they so choose, they have to go onto the balcony to smoke, where they are provided with chairs, table and an ashtray. And the doors are closed, because of the airconditioning.)

    Like you, I was never a heavy smoker, and I cannot even remember how long ago it was, so perhaps it's an indication of how unlikely I would be to partake again. Or I'm just losing my marbles.

  6. Mr. Darling -Great post! I'm wildly intrigued by the silver cigarette boxes with the engraved signatures.... I've never seen that before. I'd love to know more about that. Also, because of this post, I see that I really need to look for a couple of match strikes. Thanks for sharing yet another great story with us!

  7. I agree that the simple form follows function beauty of match-strikes is forever intriguing and cigarette boxes are totally addictive. Great post- very amusing!

  8. I recently bought a Versace ashtray and could stare at it for's BEAUTIFUL - so I totally understand...and I occassionally light up something other than a cigarette so it gets some use...I gotta have some bad habits! HEART your blog!

  9. Oh, the acoutrements of bad habits. How can one resist resist them?

  10. Nodded the whole way through this post - JUST given up, and got the virtuous first-few-months' rush. Avoiding cocktails like poison as I know that's the second I'll think 'oh, wouldn't it be grand...' - but pleased there are still candles to light and spent matches to throw in the beautiful, elegant and redundant ashtrays...

    Lovely blog!

  11. I have just been through all of your blog posts and enjoyed myself very much. Beautiful photos, and I'm in love with Darlington! laurie

  12. Oh, I so miss smoking, dam you Mad Men! But like you if I pick just one up I will be smoking a pack by the next week. Been over 12 yrs best thing I ever did.

  13. I know where you're coming from! I consider myself a social smoker- maybe a few times a month. Recently though I have been trying to stop completely and admit that it is quite challenging. Congrats to you.


  14. The most personal thing a woman could give a man for his birthday or anniversary was a silver or gold cigarette case with his initials on the outside and a very personal message and meaningful date inside. You couldn't get more romantic than that...

  15. I stopped smoking 23 years ago this month and it was the most difficult thing I have ever done! I cried, laughed, cried some more, etc., for the first three days and then I was fine. It took three tries to finally quit and I'm really proud of that accomplishment as anyone else should be. I substituted chewing gum for the first few years - but ONLY AT HOME! My 87 year old MIL still smokes - unbelievable! Can't have a drink without one - but she has cut back to maybe 8 or so a day. I could never do that - it all or nothing!

    The lovely Mrs. Blandings sent me over here a couple of weeks ago and I am just in love with your blog. We also have an old home - 1858 Greek Revival and I must say, there is nothing like an old house. Finally, our years of collecting American furniture and English ceramics have the "right" home, especially the furniture which is now in the right place with the right scale. We fell in love with this house and bought it in 15 minutes flat - and I'm not kidding. You just know when it is right!

    Keep up the great work and Happy New Year!


  16. oh how i feel your pain. what a lovely collection of smoking-related objects! when i decided to quit, i started using my cigarette case for business cards, and went around with an unlit cigarette in my silver and rhinestone holder for a couple of years just to have something in my hand in case i needed to point at someone. problem was, gentlemen kept lighting that cigarette. and now it's in the bottom of a box with my first wedding ring, sorority pin, and other remnants of my youth.

  17. reggie-


    I am so pleased I was not attracted to smoking.
    I tried a cigarette once--my parents were at the opera--and immediately did not care for the lit match so close to my face. I stubbed out the cigarette without taking a puff. Just very lucky.
    Bravo to you--cheers, DIANE

  18. Do you allow your guests to smoke in your house?

  19. I think Mrs. Rogers died of emphysema.

    1. Anon: That is also my understanding. Thank you, RD


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