A Fantastic Arts and Crafts Mechanical Cigarette Dispenser


Origin: English
Period: Early Twentieth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1910
Height: 10.5 inches (with heron)
Width: 5 inches
Depth: 5 inches

Of cubic form constructed from tinplate, the edges with decorative hammered plates laid over, the sides each with a raised circular motif, and the front side inset with a Ruskin ‘Jewel’. Atop the box is a finely modelled heron, which is connected to a mechanism inside the box. When the lever on the back is pulled downwards, the heron bends over and grasps the cigarette in its beak (the cigarette has simultaneously pushed to the top of the box,) then stands erect holding it in its beak. The box is fairly tarnished all over, but this could be removed and the original shine brought back if so desired. The workings of the box are very good, the heron moves freely, and the action is smooth.

On the underside of the box are stamped the patent marks, which read: "Patents applied for in Great Britain, USA, France, Germany and other principle countries. Design registered in England No. 539227. Trademark in Holland No. 24929. Copyright: N R STILES (possibly N B STILES)”

The ‘Ruskin Jewel’ is a small blue oval cabochon that was made at the Ruskin Pottery (set up by John Ruskin in 1898) around the turn of the last century. They were one of the biggest seller’s from the pottery, and were set into jewellery, metal or wood.

This dispenser is a wonderful conversation piece, a great example of tobacciana (from when people still enjoyed smoking and were free to do so!), and of arts and crafts design. Examples are becoming increasingly hard to find, especially those with the inset ‘Ruskin Jewel’.