Recently, the Canterbury College Survey team looked at a series of artefacts that are in the care of the UC Art Collection. The artefacts included a box of stamps that were used by the Registrar, two academic trenchers, several writing implements, and even of a christening gown, which had supposedly been worn by Professor Jack Erskine when he was a baby. The artefact that piqued our interest, however, was a plain ceramic ashtray, embossed with the University seal.
The University has had a strict ban on smoking on campus since 2013, following in the footsteps of the University of Auckland and Victoria University, who banned it in 2009 and 2012 respectively. As the project technicians, Natalie and Amy, were both undergraduate students as the time of the ban, it is not surprising that the UC embossed ashtray came as a bit of a surprise. It spoke of a very different time in the University’s history. Ashtrays would have been a staple piece of crockery in any university common room up until the 1970s at least, as we can imagine how smoking complemented the socialising and scholarly pontification that took place in such settings.
In 2020, as cultural and social norms continue to shift around us, it is difficult to imagine ashtrays being sold alongside the hoodies and graduation bears that you find in UBS. In fact, fifty years from now, a new team of collection surveyors may stumble upon this ashtray and struggle to identify its use. This kind of artefact reminds us of the importance of our task in cataloguing these items, so that the history they provide can be preserved for the future.
We look forward to venturing out to more Departments over the coming weeks, so please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to provide any information about heritage artefacts that may be of interest.