Snuff Boxes And The Early Days Of Tobacco Use

Perhaps we should blame Native Americans. Folklore has it that Columbus’s men saw our original native inhabitants either hopped up on the evil weed or engaging in nonlethal “bloodless warfare”
by spitting juice in the eyes of their enemies. Mattoon Curtis’s excellent book on the history of snuff boxes notes Columbus and later explorers were “horrified and enthralled” by the evil weed

The 16th Century French Queen Catherine de Medici

They saw the native inhabitants inhaling it through the nose and giving them diabolical power that rendered them “furious in battle.” In the beginning, people were arrested for using this “poison from the devil.” And poems written by Puritans arose: She that with pure tobacco will not prime Her nose, can be no lady of the time. Nevertheless, whenever you get a bunch of elites (or academics, or members of the Fourth Estate) together, intoxicants and debauchery often ensue.

Not only did syphilis spread like wildfire, but so did snuff use – led perhaps by 16th-century French queen Catherine de Medici, “The Queen of Snuffers.” By 1702, over 7,000 shops sold snuff in London. And so, snuff boxes became the rage. Almost everyone carried one or knew someone who carried one. As to value, most snuff boxes are worth $10 to $100. Older, decorative or precious-metal boxes, much more. Musical boxes, jeweled boxes, or those engraved with important owners’ names can bring six figures.

tobacco boxes

Here are a few we own.
a. Sliding 18k gold, German; 1820 – $7,000
b. Gold over bone, American; 1840s – $600
c. 18k gold, French; 1770 – $5,500
Prices are retail; fair market value lower. What introduces Whig or Tory and reconciles them in their story when each other is boasting glory? A pinch of snuff. Where speech and tongue together fail what helps old ladies in their tales and adds fresh canvas to their sails? A pinch of snuff.

This is an archival article formerly written and is for informational purposes only. The valuations in this article have likely changed since it was first written.

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