Snuff Box

One of the most frequently searched items on the BADA website, the humble snuff box has been a mainstay of English society since the mid-17th century.

Manufactured from ground tobacco leaves, snuff is a fine powder that is inhaled into the nasal cavity and was first imported to Europe by Spanish traders in South America, quickly became a luxury commodity.

Often flavoured with scents and essences, snuff became fashionable in England in the 1650s with many people believing the new craze had medicinal powers. Not surprisingly, consumption of snuff rose sharply in London which was gripped by an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1665-66.

The quality of snuff is compromised by prolonged exposure to air so enterprising entrepreneurs created the snuff box as a solution for safely storing your supply. These were offered in two variations, small sized options that fit conveniently into a pocket, containing around a days’ worth of snuff, and more substantial boxes for practical domestic storage, known as mulls.

Snuff BoxThe handy containers were manufactured in a wide variety of mediums to suit every budget, from everyday affordable materials like wood, metal, and horn, to more luxury alternatives made from gold, ivory and silver. The more expensive designs were often finished with exotic decorative materials and motifs such as mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, fine enamels, precious gemstones and even portrait miniatures.

Snuff taking was seen as a pastime of the more elite members of society, setting them apart from the common pipe-smoking man. Celebrated snuff enthusiasts include Queen Anne, Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon, and Marie Antoinette.

While Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, was such a prolific consumer of snuff that she requestioned an entire room at Windsor Castle for storing her personal reserve. In fact, her usage was so prolific that it earned the Queen the extremely unflattering nickname, “Snuffy Charlotte”.

Snuff BoxOne of the most famous English snuff boxes was the Parliamentary snuff box, first installed at the House of Commons in 1694 after smoking in the chamber was prohibited. Designed for use by Members of Parliament, the box was destroyed during the Blitz when a German bomb struck the Palace of Westminster in 1941. A replacement box was fashioned from timber salvaged from the chamber’s door and remains in use to this day.

Click here to view a selection of snuff boxes currently available from BADA members.