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    

Very Fine 18thc Georgian Gold Gilt Bronze Scottish Moss Agate Patch Snuff BoxRussian Silver Niello Enamelled Snuff Box Moscow 1820-34 RareRare & Important American Dated 1700 Coin Silver Snuff Or Vinaigrette Box Must CEstate Lot Chinese Signed Table Screen Snuff Box Jade Agate Jadeite FigureEstate Lot Chinese Carved Shadow Agate Snuff Bottle Lapis Lazuli Figures BoxRare 18thc Georgian Gold Gilt Bronze Scottish Banded Agate Bombe Form Snuff BoxAntique 18thc Hand Painted Enamel Battersea Oval Snuff Box Children Stick & Hoop18thc Antique Battersea Hand Painted Enamel, Sheppard & Goats, Octagon Snuff BoxAntique Chinese Solid Silver Hand Made Snuff Box By Khecheong,3.9cm Canton C1850Antique 19thc Victorian Gilt Metal 'faux' Tortoiseshell Patch / Snuff Box C1870sEarly Antique Solid Silver Geo Iii Snuff Box, Thomas Phipps, London 1812.Antique 1800's Burr Walnut Treen Snuff BoxDutch 1849 Solid Silver Chased Dancing Horses Snuff Box No Reserve Rare Muse SeeAntique 18thc Hand Painted Enamel Battersea Miniature Painting Heart Snuff Box1852: A Dutch Silver Tobacco/snuff Box Vintage Small Solid Sterling Silver Snuff Box G. Cini Sterling Silver Cherubs Snuff BoxChester Victorian Silver Musical Scene With Dancers Snuff Box 1900Very Fine 18thc Georgian Gold Gilt Bronze Scottish Moss Agate Patch Snuff Box96g Sterling Silver Snuff Box Virtu Collection Item HallmarkedRare Antique Victorian Italian Sorrento Ware Wooden Snuff BoxNice Antique Victorian Horn Lined Snuff / Tobacco Box C Mid To Late 1800sAntique Miniature Sterling Silver Pill/ Snuff/ Trinket Box W/ Turquoise CabochonAntique Sterling Silver 935 Guilloche Enamel Pill/snuff Box. Austrian?Vintage Sterling Silver Pictorial Snuff Box19thc Horn Snuff Mull Inscribed J.r.Interesting Copenhagen Snuff Crock Weyman Bros Stoneware Paper Label Red Wing?Antique Mauchline Ware Wooden / Treen Snuff Box With River Fishing Scene C 1830sOrnate Sterling Silver Clover Shaped Snuff BoxRare Antique Black Forest Carved Wood Puzzle Stamp /snuff Box Flower DetailAntique Engine Turned Engraved Flush Hinge Solid Silver Snuff Box C&kLucky Brand Adjustable-size Poison/pill/snuff Ring With Snake Design, Hinged BoxGeorge Unite Silver Snuff/pill Box Hmed 1907Beautiful Antique Engraved Snuff Or Pill Box Inset Lid Chester 1916 Adie LovekinAntique Old Chinese Agate Made Snuff Bottle Basket Knot Style TransparentAntique Chinese Or Japanese Silver Metal Raised Relief Dragon Match Snuff BoxAntique German Snuff Box Hand Painted Mary At Prayer - Signed C1887 Stobwasser?Vintage Sterling Silver Pill Snuff Box 14g.Antique Regency Era Faux Tortoise Shell Miniature Box Bone Feet Snuff TrinketOld Brass Snuff BoxCanada Ww1 King’s Own Onward Calgary Regiment Officers Hat Cap Snuff Pill BoxQuality Heavy Vintage Solid Silver Pill / Snuff Box - Unknown Maker1780 Silver Maria Theresa Thaler 2 Coin Pill Snuff Box Case Picture Locket Rare Naively Carved Coconut - Depicting Slave Trade, Ships, Masonic Symbol, Snuff Box2 Vintage Antique Metal Snuff SpoonsHalcyon Days Enamels England Noah's Arc Snuff Pill Box Screw Top $3 Us ShipAntique English Chester Hallmarked Sterling Silver Angel Snuff Trinket BoxRare Tibet Silver Inlaid Cat's Eye Gem Jewelry Box Snuff Box Vintage Old collectCollectible Decor China Handwork Old Copper Carving Dragon Noble Snuff BottleOriental Vintage Copper Handwork Carved Cicada Collectable Snuff BoxAntique Chinese Enamel Box, Marked "china" Chrysanthemum Enamelware Pill SnuffNoble Chinese Old Copper Collection Handmade Carved Snake Statue Box Mirror DecoCollection Decor Miao Silver Carve Dragon Phoenix Inlay Agate Noble Snuff BottleChina Collection Handwork Old Agate Carve Wonderful Phoenix Fortune Snuff BottleNoble Chinese Old Cloisonne Handmade Carved Flower Collect Statue Snuff Bottle Han Dynasty Handwork Coloured Glaze Girl & Gift Box Snuff Bottle B474Asian Chinese Old Glass Hand Inside Painting Belle Collect Snuff Bottle Art DecoVintage Victorian Silver Tone Blue Crystal Cherub Angel Snuff Pill Box OvalNoble Chinese Old Porcelain Handmade Painting Figure Collect Snuff Bottle GiftCollectable Handwork Old Alabaster Carved Mythology Dragon Exorcism Snuff Bottle