Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The fine art of taking snuff

Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Loretta reports:

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.”

Beau Brummell amassed a collection, a few of which are pictured in Ian Kelly’s Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style.

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.


Julianne Donaldson said...

Great instruction! I'm reminded of Lord Grantham's collection of snuff boxes on Downton Abbey.

Andrew Schroeder said...

That snuff box... Looks like someone threw up all over it.

Sandra Brake said...

And of course the sneezing afterwards.
I've been fascinated by snuff boxes ever since reading about them in a Georgette Heyer novel which featured poison snuff in the plot.
I like the ones with scenes on them but then I like patch boxes like that too!
Oh and immoderate laughter in response to Andrew's comment!

Susan Elliott said...

I've just recently found your blog, read through many of your older posts and am having a ball here.

Just wondering what snuff actually was? Was it like chewing tobacco or like cocaine? I always assumed it was chewing tobacco -- I had no idea it was snuffed up the nose -- though I should have reasoned that out...ergo the name...

Lil said...

I've been trying to think, when did snuff drop out of fashion?

LorettaChase said...

Snuff is dried, powdered tobacco, sniffed through the nose. It's a dose of nicotine minus the smoke, and while still highly addictive, is believed to be less harmful--at least to the lungs--than smoking, although I'm sure one can find pro & con, as is the case with so many other drugs. Osbourne says that snuff taking reached its peak during George IV's reign (he & his mother were heavy users) and slowly thereafter went into decline, especially when cigarettes appeared. But it never completely disappeared. The little Shire pamphlet has all kinds of interesting tidbits like this.

Isobel Carr said...

13. Keep your handkerchief at the ready.
14. Sneeze.
15. Wipe your nose.

Or at least that was my experience with the nasty stuff.

Arianne said...

There's a really gorgeous agate and gold one in the V&A. Here's the picture!

A from A + B in the Sea

Keri said...

I agree with Andrew, this one is really hideous. But the one Arianne linked is gorgeous!

I read mostly fantasy rather than historical fiction, though there is a lot of overlap in the worldbuilding... which leads me to wonder why no fantasy novel I've ever read has had snuff in it! Very interesting.

Heather said...

Very informative post! I'm glad I found this blog. I've always wondered what snuff was, and you've not only answered that but also pointed out what style of snuffbox I would have owned--one with a dog on it. :)

AC Silver antiques said...

Love the information on taking snuff. This box is a bit over embellished for my liking, i prefer the geometric shaped antique silver snuff boxes. I'm sure this will appeal to someone though.

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