Inhaling snuff, or snuffing, as it is also called, was first witnessed by a European in 1493, when Friar Ramón Pane, who had arrived in the new world courtesy of Christopher Columbus, was living as a missionary among Haiti’s indigenous Taino. Until then, tobacco had been unknown to Europeans, but the use of tobacco spread like a weed on the continent during the 1500s. By the second half of the 17th century, ornate boxes were being produced to keep the precious powder dry.

At the beginning of the 18th century, French jewelers made snuff boxes out of gold set with diamonds, amethysts, and sapphires. By 1740, specialized artisans took over the production of these ornate tabatières, which they engraved, chased, and enameled. A close cousin of the tabatière was the tabatière à cage, whose sides, tops, and bottoms featured gold or metal frames holding panels of decorated ivory, agate, tortoiseshell, or porcelain.

The shapes of these boxes was not limited to simple rectangles. Porcelain containers resembling trunks were common, as were ovals, but tabatières shaped like shells were more rare. And while materials were often enough for their decoration, sometimes these snuff boxes were hand painted, depicting everything from miniature landscapes and bucolic scenes to tiny portraits or grisaille cameos of their owners.

Silver snuff boxes are usually associated with Sheffield, England, where silver-plating technologies were perfected on these diminutive containers in the late 18th century. By the early 19th century, the silver industry had blossomed in Birmingham, England, where box makers such as Samuel Pemberton, Nathaniel Mills, and Edward Smith produced oblong containers with images of castles and abbeys on their tops and sides.

Interestingly, Birmingham was also a center for papier-mâché snuff boxes, which were hardened with multiple layers of enamel. Sensing a market for these inexpensive boxes in the United States, Birmingham box makers were soon decorating their wares with portraits of U.S. naval heroes and victory scenes from the War of 1812, often using engravings by such renowned American artists as Gilbert Stuart as their primary source material.

Meanwhile, in China, snuff bottles were produced to serve the same purpose as snuff boxes in the West. These bottles often resembled flattened discs and ranged in their materials from carved glass or jade to fired porcelain. In the 1800s, some glass bottles were painted from the inside by artists using tiny brushes that ended in right-angles instead of points. Cloisonné was another favored decorative application, with copper and gold being the preferred metals to pair with the enameling.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society

International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society

This simple site features a beautiful collection of antique Chinese snuff bottles. Start on the categories page, wh… [read review or visit site]

Inside Painted Snuff Bottles

Inside Painted Snuff Bottles

This site is a great showcase for hundreds of beautifully detailed inside painted snuff bottles - featuring artwork… [read review or visit site]

Match World

Match World

This ambitious site showcases the 20,000-item Rankei Library matchbook collection, owned by the Japan Match Manufac… [read review or visit site]

Kensitas Silk Flowers

Kensitas Silk Flowers

Don Wearmouth and his wife showcase the 230 beautiful silk designs that were distributed free with Kensitas cigaret… [read review or visit site]

Matchbox Labels

Matchbox Labels

Jane McDevitt's huge Flickr photoset of matchbox labels, primarily Eastern European, from the 1950s and 60s. These … [read review or visit site]

Truth in Advertising

Truth in Advertising

This gallery of cigarette magazine advertising from the 1940s and 50s contains no surgeon general's warning, just p… [read review or visit site]

Matchbook Museum

Matchbook Museum

James Lileks' gallery of 400 matchbooks from coffee shops, hotels, motels, bars, banks, restaurants and more. Lilek… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Snuff Box Pretty, Precious Inlaid, Faux Tortoise Shell C1860Large Antique 18thc Hand Painted Battersea Enamel Snuff Box, NrBeautiful Antique 19th Century Solid Silver Pierced Heart Shaped Snuff Box Signed - Iraqi Marsh Arab - Solid Silver & Niello - Snuff Box Or Compact - 57grBeautiful Embossed Antique Victorian 1899 Solid Sterling Silver Table Snuff BoxAntique Portrait Painting Woman & Hat Lacquer Papier Mache Snuff Box StobwasserMiniature Portrait - Georgian Snuff Box - Rose Gold BezelRare Vintage Solid Silver Egyptian Round Pill / Snuff Box - Stamped - Read InfosSuperb 18thc Dutch Brass & Copper Engraved Tobacco Or Snuff Box C1780sVictorian Antique Pewter Dixon Snuff Tobacco Box Castle Abbey House CastletopMarked Spanish Gilded Sterling Silver Snuff Box Cigarette Case TobaccianaGorgeous 19th C Victorian Treen Shoe Snuff Box With Metal Inlay & Hinged LidCarved Stone Floral Lidded Trinket Snuff Jewelry BoxVintage Chrome Lyster Moto Ski Snowmobile Hinged License Plate Topper Name PlateVictorian Hallmarked Silver Pill, Snuff Or Trinket BoxAn Antique Victorian Papier Mache Mother Of Pearl Abalone Inlaid Snuff Box.Antique Carved Coquilla Nut Treen Snuff Box Civil War Era Gutta Percha Snuff Box With 33 Stars InlaidAntique Silver Or Nickel Plated Pewter Engraved Snuff Box, Unusual Curved DesignAntique 1800s Norwegian Or Native Or Scandanavian Birchbark Decorated Snuff BoxQianlong Archaize Style Cloisonne Hand-painted Dragon Statue Snuff Bottle Box CoVintage Solid Silver Oval Snuff / Pill Box - Stamped - Made In ItalyLovely Solid Silver Oval Snuff Box / Trinket Box William Comyns 1910Chinese Four Color Jade Copper Snuff Bottle Lid Combination Old HandVintage Solid Sterling Silver 925 Round Snuff / Pill Box - Stamped - ItalianSnuff Box Pill Box Sterling Silver Antique 925 Vintage Ae87 Awesome 19th C Victorian Treen Shoe Snuff Box With Metal Inlay & Swivel LidCollectible Decorate Old Handwork Porcelain Drawing Lifelike Turtle Snuff BottleBilston Battersea Enamel Patch Snuff Box My Weary Search English C 1770Antique Pietra Dura Agate Brass Snuff Trinket Pill BoxSterling Silver Pill / Snuff Box Reo Basket Design.18th Century Steel Snuff Box With Spring Push Button LidOld Chinese Archaize Art Cloisonne Hand-painted Cranes Snuff Bottle Box Old HandChinese Old Jingdezhen Porcelain Handmade Painting Figure Snuff Bottle Statue Collectible Decorate Old Handwork Silver Plate Copper Horse Running Snuff BottleBeautiful - Mint Condition - Pressed Horn - Snuff Box 925 Hallmarked Silver Pill -snuff BoxAntique 1800s Norwegian Or Native Or Scandanavian Civil War Era Horn Snuff BoxCollectible Decor Old Handwork Porcelain Drawing Bring Money Toad Snuff BottleNice 19th Century Snuff Box Collectible Old Handwork Porcelain Drawing Bring Money Spittor Snuff Bottle chinese Vintage Cloisonne Craft Flowers Snuff Bottle Rare DecorationSnuff Box Pill Box Sterling Silver Antique 925 Vintage Ae88Antique Table Snuff BoxArmenian 1904 Very Rare Metal Box For Tobacco Armenia Medal Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Cloisonne Carved Pair Duck Swim Snuff BottleAntique Papier Mache Lacquer Pocket Snuff Box chinese Vintage Unique Turquoise Carved Statue Fish Pisces Snuff Bottles Old Oriental Asian Old Bronze Jade Manual Collection High Quality Snuff Bottle LidCollectible Decoration Coral Carve Elephant Moral Auspicious Mount Snuff BottleCollection Handwork Decoration Coral Carve Monkey Lucky Auspicious Snuff BottlesCollectable Jade Armor Miao Silver Carve Dragon Phoenix Ancient Snuff BottleScarce Late 18th C. British Leather Snuff Box With Silver Banding/cartouche Nr!1760s Antique Early Bilston & Battersea Enamel Pill Snuff Or Patch BoxC.1900 Dutch Silver Repousse Oval Snuff Box - SailboatAntique Papier Mache Snuff Box With Painting Of Young WomanCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Porcelain Drawing Make Love Snuff BottleChinese Flower Bird Inside Hand Painted Glass Snuff Bottle:gift BoxSuperb Antique Sterling Silver Egg Pill Holder Snuff Case Locket Pendant Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Cloisonne Carved Pair Crane Snuff Bottle