Made in Canada
Last month my husband, children, and I made the long drive back to the prairies to see family and friends, and to visit places we never gave ourselves a chance to visit before. We came across this little ashtray in my Mother- and Father-in-law’s garage, in a box of odds and ends that my husband’s grandmother was giving away.
I was immediately attracted to the typography — the contrast between the energetic script and the bold sans serif — but also to the quirkiness of the balance (or unbalance, depending on whether you are a glass-half-empty kind of person) of the script over the sans serif type, and the awkward spacing between the capital S and the proceeding ‘o’. There is also the imperfection of the hand-painted green trim, which indicates (as Ruskin tells us) dignity, freedom, and humanity. A dignified ashtray!
The imperfections extend to the type as well. To my knowledge, most inexpensive pottery used water-soluble decals to transfer type and graphics, but based on the tiny counterforms in the sans serif ‘A’ and the smudging of ‘SASK.’ I am guessing that this type was silkscreened onto the pottery, and the ink bled somewhat.
Despite the lofty designation I’ve given this ashtray, I should emphasize that this is really an inexpensive (ie. cheap) souvenir, bought some time in the mid 20th century. Like so many souvenirs of its time, it displays a cheeky visual vocabulary, reading like a roadside diner cup and saucer all perky and bright. Based on the type on its bottom, however, it proves to truly be a relic of a time we are leaving behind.
I can’t find any information to tell me where in Canada this ashtray would be produced (googling “Delac” only gets me references to lakes in French). Unlike Medalta Potteries in Alberta, determined to preserve its history and physical presence in Canadian material culture, this manufacturer is not on the radar. And reading “produced in Canada” immediately reminded me of the Pin Controversy from this past late spring, when it was discovered that government-issued Canadian Maple Leaf pins, made for officials to sprinkle around to visitors and to promote Canada… are made in China.
Our Canadian producers of souvenirs and tchotchkes may be disappearing, and this may simply be a sign of world trade and global economy, but it does raise the question of national identity. Souvenirs send a message and, like vials of sand collected from beaches or photographs of families huddled together in front of monuments, this message simply states “I was there”. It implies an experience was had. (In the case of our little ashtray, it also reveals some habits people are less likely to brag about today.) Does having a foreign-made souvenir change this message? Does it change the value of the object?
Come to think of it, does anyone collect souvenirs anymore?