28 January 2008

Daily Life: Snuff--No Grimaces Allowed!

Sandra Schwab
By Sandra Schwab

By the Regency, snuff had become the preferred choice of tobacco in the fashionable world and had replaced pipes and cigars. In this, the beau monde followed once again the example of dandy extraordinaire Beau Brummell, and what's more, he also dictated how snuff was to taken: according to Brummell, snuff boxes should be opened and snuff transferred from box to nose with only one hand, which naturally required practice and concentration. To take a pinch of snuff in an offhand manner--even better: in the middle of a conversation--without glancing at either snuff or snuff box and, most importantly, without any grimacing, was considered highest art.

Snuff-taking was an expensive habit--not only did the prices for snuff ran high, but the substance also had to be carried around in a suitable container: the snuff-boxes of the rich were intricate pieces of workmanship. The lids were often decorated with miniatures depicting animals, children, pastoral scenes, or--less innocently--erotic scenes.

"If you knew a man intimately," Gronow writes in RECOLLECTIONS AND ANECDOTES: A SECOND SERIES OF REMINISCENCES (1863), "He would offer you a pinch out of his own box; but if others, not so well acquainted, wishes for a pinch, it was actually refused. In those days of snuff-taking, at the tables of great people, and the messes of regiments, snuff-boxes of large proportions followed the bottle, and everybody was at liberty to help himself."

Snuff was provided in dry or moist versions, many of which were scented as well, with jasmine, orange flowers, musk roses, or bergamot. It came in different colours, ranging from yellow to brown, black or even purple. Detailed descriptions of different kinds of snuff can be found in Arnold James Cooley's CYCLOPAEDIA OF SIX THOUSAND PRACTICAL RECEIPTS (1854):

Text not available
Read this book: A Cyclopaedia of Six Thousand Practical Receipts, and Collateral Information by Arnold James Cooley