Snuff Boxes 

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It is a truism that almost every human habit produces some form of beauty in one of the arts.  The practice of snuff-taking has been no exception to the rule and the study of this development in the snuff box is a fascinating one.  It is perhaps in the art of the metal worker, whether goldsmith, silversmith, or pewterer, that this artistic achievement has been demonstrated through the centuries of snuff indulgence.  Just as, for the earliest smokers, the craftsman created exquisite things in the form of shredding knives, tobacco jars, boxes and pouches, so has he given us a legacy in the form of snuff boxes, some of them of unsurpassed beauty and of considerable value as works of art.

Since snuff boxes first became popular, boxes have been made from a wide variety of materials and we find today in private collections and museums, wonderful examples in gold and silver, brass and copper, ebony, pewter, jade and agate, ivory, mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, horn, leather, papier mache, and numerous rare and beautiful woods.

But beauty is not the last word in the creation of snuff boxes.  They must be practical and efficient.  It is fitting that snuff be enshrined in these precious materials but, however rare they may be and however beautiful the box, there is one essential factor that must come before all else - the box today must be made in such a way as to be "snuff-proof" and it must keep the snuff in good condition.

Ebony Snuff Box with Working Tools

Early Goats Horn Snuff Box

1829 Burl Wood Snuff Box

Early Miniature Setting Maul Snuff Box

Early Masonic Tortoise Shell Snuff Box

Georgian Masonic Trick Opening Snuff  Box

Charles Dickens Lodge Silver Snuff Box

Early Sterling Silver Engraved Snuff Box

Scottish Rite Tortoise Shell Snuff Box

Early Masonic Goats Horn Snuff Mull

Early Hand-painted French Porcelain Snuff Box

Reproduction Limoges Masonic Porcelain Boxes

Early Hand-painted Limoges Porcelain Snuff/Pill Box

Folk Art Masonic Shoe Snuff Box dated 1836

German Snuff Box dated 1871

19th Century Hand Engraved Masonic Snuff Box

English Snuff Box made to look like a Masonic Square

1914 Edwardian Chatelaine Snuff Box from Saladin Shrine Temple


A Brief History of Snuff

Sniffing snuff was the original method of taking tobacco, first used by the American Indians. Christopher Columbus noticed them sniffing a mysterious powder during his second voyage of discovery (1494-6) and brought the substance back to Europe. Snuff taking fast became the vogue among the Spanish and the French, although it only gained limited acceptance in England until Charles II brought the habit back from his exile in France.

Snuff was primarily the province of the aristocrat and the man of fashion, who looked down on the common man and his pipe. It was always particularly popular in court circles. Queen Anne so enjoyed snuff that all her ladies took up the habit. Queen Charlotte, the consort of George III, acquired the name 'snuffy Charlotte' because of her passion for it. Her son, George IV, changed his snuff according to the time of day and had a storage room set aside in each of his palaces. The man in the street was first introduced to the habit after the capture of a Spanish convoy in 1702. Among the booty was a large consignment of snuff, which was given to the sailors as part of their payment. They distributed it around the ports and coastal towns, where it quickly became popular. Mills were established in London, Bristol, Sheffield and Kendal, and soon snuff shops were sprouting up everywhere, with over 400 in London alone.

Until the 1900s, the volume of snuff produced far exceeded that of tobacco for smoking or chewing. Everyone took it - from poet Alexander Pope to naturalist Charles Darwin, actress Sarah Siddons to the Duke of Wellington. Lord Nelson took large quantities to sea with him, while Napoleon sniffed up over seven pounds a month. Physicians made great claims for it, prescribing snuff for headaches, insomnia, toothache, coughs and colds and recommending it as a measure against contagion.

Today, snuff is "in".  It's a delightful way of getting the nicotine fix where smoking is either frowned upon or outright banned. And the trend is strongest among 20 and 30-somethings. Because of the passive smoking issue, it is becoming more acceptable to have a pinch of snuff after dinner than to light up.




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