Europeans first began snorting snuff, the pulverized form of tobacco, in the early seventeenth century, and within one hundred years it was widely used by men and women alike. Snuff boxes, tiny decorative containers for the powdered herb, became a symbol of vanity and fashion and an important part of the ritual of using snuff. Snuff was not always taken from a box. Some users preferred to take their snuff from a bottle or a jar, while others carried it loose in their pockets. From the mid-seventeenth century, however, the most common container for snuff was a box, which was an object of much adoration.
Snuff boxes came in a variety of sizes and shapes. Most snuff boxes were three to four inches in diameter, though they became smaller as the use of snuff declined toward the end of the eighteenth century. Often the box was accompanied by a quill or a spoon used to stir the snuff or raise it to the nostrils. Oval was the most common shape for snuff boxes for most of the eighteenth century, with oblong, octagonal, and circular boxes also available. Among the more fanciful shapes were book-shaped boxes, boxes in the form of sedan chairs (portable chairs that can be carried by two attached poles), or those modeled in the form of animals or human figures. The ornament and illustration, including encrusted jewels and enameling, on these beautiful boxes lent them an air of individuality and style that have made them highly prized among collectors to this day.
Blakemore, Kenneth. Snuff Boxes. London, England: F. Muller, 1976.
McCausland, Hugh. Snuff and Snuff Boxes. London, England: Batchworth, 1951.