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Snuff taking

12/07/2009

Enamelled cowry shell snuff box with harbour scene, 1750-70

Snuff is ground up tobacco mixed with spices, and was inhaled through the nose.   

Snuff taking became fashionable in England around 1680 and continued in popularity into the 20th century.   

Off with her nose!

Although snuff taking gained widespread popularity, some loathed the habit – King James the First of England wrote essays against it, Pope Urban VIII threatened users with excommunication, and, in 1643, Tsar Michael decreed the punishment for snuff taking to be the removal of the nose! 

‘Baccy bling

Snuff taking was an expensive habit and distinguished the rich from the poor who usually smoked tobacco. 
Snuff box decorated with a picture of Jenny Lind

Japanned ware snuff box decorated with a picture of Jenny Lind

The snuff was kept in small boxes.  Snuff boxes, carried as they were in the pocket, were generally quite small, but they came in all shapes and were generally highly decorated, fast became fashion accessories and a status symbol.

Many snuff boxes were japanned ware, made of papier-mâché and decorated with intricate detail, while others were made from enamelled metal beautifully painted in delicate colours.  Whatever they were made from, they were often decorated with pictures of celebrities of the day, like the singer Jenny Lind, who first sang in Britain in 1847 in front of Queen Victoria and soon became as famous as Madonna today.
 
Snuff boxes almost have a social history of their own, decorated with pictures of politicians, poets, kings and actors, as well as battle scenes and comic stories, like miniature chronicles of the times.  The fashion for more and more elaborate snuff boxes remained popular well into the 19th century.

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