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One man´s tray, another man´s treasure: Collectors turn rubber into gold at tire ashtray show

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One man´s tray, another man´s treasure: Collectors turn rubber into gold at tire ashtray show

Mike Lynch couldn´t believe his luck. The Akron, Ohio, resident and his brother, Pat, originally staged the inaugural Rubber City Tire Ashtray Show in May as a forum for fellow collectors to buy, sell and trade the small rubber items that years ago seemed nearly as commonplace as their larger, road-worthy counterparts.

Lynch -- who owns more than 700 trays -- never thought he would obtain the hobby´s "Holy Grails" at the event. But fate stepped in on the first day of the weekend-long convention when a fellow collector produced two ashtrays made by the old Overman Cushion Tire Co. One, issued in 1926, depicted a leering devil (the tiremaker´s mascot) and another from 1934 featured a shapely she-devil. "I had been looking for them for at least seven years," says Lynch. Only three or four of each are known to exist.

After some friendly negotiating -- and the exchange of a couple thousand dollars -- they were his. The trays now make up the centerpiece of Lynch´s imposing tire memorabilia collection, which also includes vintage advertisements, signs, postcards, pocket watches, pins, price sheets and other items.

Fifteen vendors from as far away as Chicago, Ill., and Tampa, Fla., displayed their wares at the show, which drew hundreds of ashtray collectors, former tire industry workers and other nostalgia seekers. "It´s brought back memories," says Tom Kochheiser of Findlay, Ohio. Now retired, Kochheiser estimates he probably doled out 10,000 tire ashtrays to customers during his 20-year stint with Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.

"As a collector, this was so needed and so wonderful," says Dennis Moore, who drove down from Northfield, Ohio, for the show. Moore developed a fascination with tire ashtrays while playing with them as a boy. "Then when you get older and come across one -- well, the next thing you know, one breeds a thousand."

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Terry Magnuski, a tire ashtray enthusiast from Chicago who had a booth at the show, started picking up ashtrays at flea markets and antique shops 10 years ago. His collection has since snowballed to include rare pieces like a Firestone truck tire ashtray that was made out of metal due to rubber rationing during World War II. He also owns a glow-in-the-dark model from General Tire & Rubber Co. that dates back to the 1940s, and a 50-year-old tray from now-defunct Canadian tiremaker Dominion Royal that sports not one but two cigar holders.

John McQuiston of Tampa used to give tire ashtrays to his clients when he was a salesman for BFGoodrich Tire Group and later Michelin North America Inc. "I had an office and started to decorate it with ashtrays. It got out of hand, I guess! No matter how many you have, there´s always one you´ve never seen before."

McQuiston´s collection included 600 models at its peak in 1996; he has whittled it down to a more manageable 300. And he sold quite a few at the convention, which Mike and Pat Lynch want to make an annual event. (This year, the brothers sent invitations to collectors throughout North America and even to devotees in Finland, Switzerland and New Zealand.) They also plan to publish a quarterly newsletter about the hobby, plus an updated price guide.

"The first show is the hardest to get off the ground," says Pat. "But we had a lot of participation and met a lot of interesting people. They remember these ashtrays; it´s a part of their lives." For information on next year´s show, call (330) 633-1233.

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