Snuff is the powder of finely-ground tobacco leaves, sometimes mixed with flavors, fragrances or other medicaments. A pinch of snuff is inhaled into the nose directly from the fingertips or off the back of one's hand—delivering an immediate and stimulating rush of nicotine to the body (through the delicate membranes of the nasal passage). Essentially, it provides many of the same pleasing sensations of smoking, although without lighting-up. The downsides of tobacco (filth, addiction, cancer) are all still problems for the snuff user.
Snuff was first used by Indigenous Brazilians in Pre-Columbian times. On Columbus's Second Voyage (1493), one of the accompanying Spanish priests took some snuff back to Europe where it became a coveted and expensive luxury product, embraced by the royal court. The Dutch coined the term "snuff" and actively imported the product from the New World (or, at least, the raw materials which could be processed in Europe). By the 1600's, snuff was a widely used product, especially amongst the wealthy.
In order to neatly transport a small supply of snuff on his person, a gentleman would carry a snuffbox—which could be either very fancy or quite quotidian. The Mid-Victorian snuffbox, shown above, is a fairly simple option: papier-mâché is formed of paper pulp, bits of fabric, sometimes metal powder, and a binder like starch, paste or glue. The composite mixture is formed in a mould, using steam to ease the material into shape. The box can then be painted (this one has a dappled tortoiseshell treatment) and then lacquered which provides a smooth, leathery shine. A close-fitting lid (like the one here) helps to keep the snuff fresh for a few days of traveling.
Although few people still snort snuff, the remaining snuffboxes provide a wonderful place to store small, precious objets (like baby teeth, rings, cufflinks, collar stays or to present a new house key or engagement ring). Please click on the photo above to learn more about this handsome, old box.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248