Silver Snuff Boxes A Brief History

Like if this guide is helpful

Silver Snuff Boxes

Since the fifteenth century, snuff boxes have had an interesting history, with their make-up being transformed across the ages by different cultures and nations. From the humble papier-mâché snuff boxes made for the masses to the antique silver snuff boxes we covet today, we look at the origins of the snuff box and its many transformations across time, as well as their status and significance in today’s society.

Snuff, a kind of dried ground tobacco, was brought to Europe by Friar Ramon Pane, a missionary working in Haiti who had travelled on Christopher Columbus’ New World voyage, in 1493. After initially bringing it back to Spain, snuff spread across the continent like wildfire, first as a luxury item to the aristocracy, and then as a commodity more accessible to the lower classes. In the late seventeenth century, the use of snuff was very widespread, and snuff boxes were beginning to be made in order to keep the snuff dry. These ranged from the ornate, made from gold, silver or ivory and adorned with gemstones, to those made and sold to the lower-classes, made from materials such as papier-mâché or even potato pulp. Some of the most prestigious were the French tabatières, which were made from gold and set with diamonds, amethysts and sapphires, and were often engraved, chased or enamelled.

The silver snuff box began to rise in popularity in the late eighteenth century, with the Sheffield manufacturers proving especially popular. In the early nineteenth century, this focus shifted to Birmingham and makers such as Samuel Pemberton, Edward Smith and Nathaniel Mills, who crafted oblong designs carrying images of castles and abbeys.

The twentieth century began to see a decline in the popularity of snuff, although it was still used among the professional classes, and snuff boxes remained a popular gift given by British monarchs to officials such as diplomats and ambassadors. Today, snuff boxes are highly collectable. Although modern silver boxes are still made today by makers such as Regnas, it is the antique silver snuff boxes that are the most coveted, particularly those which deviate from the traditional shapes such as oblongs and ovals.
Link to an eBay page Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Link to an eBay page
Have something to share? Create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides