Taking snuff was once the height of fashion—and like all things fashionable, it required the right accessories. Making an impression demanded an elegant snuffbox or a few hundred. Ursula Bourne’s Snuff, one of those small Shire publications jam-packed with information, tells us that “The very wealthy and fashionable not only had different boxes and flavoured snuffs for different occasions but some had a different box for each change of outfit.”
At the Victoria & Albert Museum, I was able to stare at several fine examples of some of the more expensive and elaborate snuffboxes royalty and aristocrats collected. Above is an 18th century one from the collection of Frederick the Great of Prussia. You can see others and learn more about them here. Bequests of snuffboxes feature in his will, which you can read here.
As to how to take snuff—
Beau Brummell “maintained that snuff boxes should be opened and the snuff taken from box to nostril with the use of only one hand. This required dexterity and concentration.” Clearly, this method separated the truly fashionable from the wannabes.
Bourne quotes a ca. 1800 (unnamed, alas) source for the following instructions:
1. Take the snuffbox with your right hand. 2. Pass the snuffbox to your left hand. 3. Rap the snuff box. 4. Open the snuffbox. 5. Present the box to the company. 6. Receive it after going the round. 7. Gather up the snuff in the box by striking the side with the middle and fore fingers. 8. Take a pinch of snuff with the right hand. 9. Keep the snuff a moment or two between the fingers before carrying it to the nose. 10. Put the snuff to your nose. 11. Sniff it by precision with both nostrils, and without any grimace. 12. Close the snuffbox with a flourish.
You may want to while away the time in a waiting room by practicing the procedure with an imaginary snuffbox. Not only will this keep you occupied but it will amuse the other people waiting as well.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.