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The Tools for Snuff-Taking

Initially, snuff taking was for the aristocratic circles: William and Mary and Queen Anne (as seen on Bridgerton) were all confirmed snuffers. However, the habit of using snuff began to take off amongst ordinary men and women in 1702, when several thousand barrels of choice Spanish Snuff, ready ground, were captured and sold at the English seaports for low prices.

A number of tools were available for snuff takers.

The essential tool was the snuff box. These came made from a diverse range of materials, carved into all shapes and sizes. They did, however, all have one thing in common: they were airtight. This was necessary to keep the snuff fresh and to preserve its perfumes and flavourings.

Pictured above is a snuff shoe box with a diamond inlaid on the lid. Snuff shoe boxes were very popular and a collector's field in their own right. Also pictured is a very unusual violin case snuff box.

The violin case snuff box above is dated 1805. It has a bone snuff spoon fitted inside the box, a very rare feature of wooden snuff boxes. The spoon has been carved with a scroll-end so that, when the box was opened and snuff placed in the compartment, only the top part of the spoon handle with the scroll would have been seen, so would look like a violin inside the box to the user.

Small snuff spoons were used to transfer snuff to the back of the hand. Although spoons were used in the UK, the majority of snuff users preferred to take a pinch with the fingers. In Europe snuff spoons were used to deliver the powdered tobacco to the nose of the snuffer.

Above is an image of an elaborately carved boxwood spoon, probably for a bigger table snuff box, dating from around 1740, possibly a little earlier.

The snuff spoon belonging to the violin snuff box below is made from bone and shows the scroll end as the handle with holes in the snuff bowl.

Above is an antique treen snuff mallet. This was used for dislodging any snuff sticking to the side of the snuff box, particularly the snuff mulls used in Scotland. This example may have a double function of being used as a pipe tamper as well.

Below is an unusual antique treen snuff pricker with a carved gentleman's head and an open lantern with a ball. The pricker was used to prick the clumps of snuff. These are difficult to find. This one dates from the mid 1700s and is beautifully carved from one piece of wood.


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