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    

Quality 19th Century French Silver Table Snuff Box Superb Decoration 131.6gAntique Dutch Solid Silver Novelty Hat Box Shape Tobacco Or Snuff Box Dated 1832Antique 19thc Russian Solid Silver & Niello Enamel Snuff Box, Moscow C.1880Antique Chinese/japanese Silver Export Mussel-oyster Shell Snuff-pill BoxC1890 Antique Heavy Brass Book Shaped Welsh Miners Pocket Snuff Tobacco Box VgcAntique Papier Mache Snuff Box 19th Century - Paper Mache Old Bearded Man C.1850Unique Victorian Buffalo Horn Snuff Box & Brass Cribbage Crib Card Game BoardAntique C1830 Nathaniel Mills Solid Sterling Silver & Gilt English Snuff Box YqzArt Deco Solid Silver & Guilloche Enamel Snuff / Pill Box London 1923Unusual Provincial? Silver & Agate Antique Snuff Box. C1800Museum Qlty Carved 17th C Louis Xiv M. Therese Snuff Box Pill Faux TortoishellBeautiful Austrian Antique Silver,enamel And Gilt Table Snuff Box- C1900Georgian Silver & Mother Of Pearl Snuff Box. C1750. Village Scene Top.Snuffbox Silver 84 Zolotnik.imperial RussianBeautiful Victorian Brass Snuff Box Marked 'tally Ho' With Fox VestaCollectable Enamel Erotic Beauty Snuff Pill Box Trinket 925 Sterling SilverCarved Wooden Head Top Cane, Snuffbox, Opens Up, Gadget Walking StickAntique German Solid Silver Tobacco Or Snuff Box By C Forster & Graf Circa 1895Genuine Sterling Silver Pill/snuff BoxAntique 18th C Sevres Porcelain Raised Gold Cherubs Trinket / Patch / Snuff BoxAntique Rare19th Hand Carved Wood Shoe Snuff Box With Bone Medallion BootScottish Mauchline Crichton Of Cumnock Pen And Ink Snuff Box Circa 1820-40Small Signed Antique Chinese Silver Box Or Snuff BoxExquisite Vintage Japanese Solid Sterling Silver Ornate Figural Pill/snuff BoxAntique Victorian 19th C. Papier Mache Snuff Box--gambling SceneAntique Rare19th Hand Carved Wood Shoe Snuff Box With Bone Medallion BootAntique 18th Century English Dutch Delft Blue & White Signed Trinket / Snuff BoxSterling Silver - Mexico Lapis Square Snuff (opens!) 19.8g - Pill Box Sf3031Antique Circular Treen Wood Box Trinket Horatio Nelson Lord Dice Shaker SnuffAntique 19thc German Thuringia Dresden Figures Trinket / Snuff Box Scissor MarkC1800 Antique 18thc/19thc Georgian Gold Mounted Faux Tortoiseshell Snuff BoxA Handsome Small Decorative Japanese Snuff Or Pill Box Or Overlay Trinket CasketEarly 1800's Battersea Enamel Snuff Box With Great PortraitAntique Canada Alaska Inuit / Eskimo Buffalo Bone Polar Bear Seal Kill Snuff BoxSolid Silver 19th Century Austria-hungary Snuff Box 86.9gRare French Large Snuff Box Fully Hall Marked For France Town Mark And MakerAn Edwardian Miners Snuff Box / Tobacco Tin Marked Joseph Cains 1905Collectable Ename Nude Lady With Cherub Snuff Pill Box 925 Sterling SilverCollectable Enamel Hunting Dogs Snuff Pill Box 925 Sterling SilverAntique Silver. A Georgian Snuff Box? Stunning L@@kCharles Parker Snuff Box Civil War Pat Date Jan 24 1860 Neat Scene 150+ Yr OldVintage Silver Pill / Snuff BoxSouthwest Silver And Turquoise Pill Snuff Box Red Coral Overlay No Reserve *309Antique 14k Gold & Horn Georgian Snuff Box With Miniature Watercolor PortraitErotic Gadget Cane Snuff Boxe Walking StickAntique Carved Horn Snuff Box 19th Century C.1840 - Nice ConditionEnamel 1920s Style Erotic Bondage Lady Snuff Pill Box 925 Sterling SilverCollectable Enamel Victorian Boy Play Cricket Snuff Pill Box 925 Sterling SilverCollectable Enamel Napoleon Crossing The Alps Snuff Pill Box 925 Sterling SilverEngraved Sterling Silver Hunters Snuff Box 57mm 39.8gAntique Georgian French Sterling Silver Basket Stand With Ladies And SwagsRare Stunning Victorian Mappin Bros Solid Silver Fluted Oval Hinged Snuff BoxLate Victorian Antique Papier Mache And Silver Snuff Box 1900China Handwork Old Collectible Decoration Cloisonne Carving Flower Snuff BottleCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Porcelain Carved Duck Swim Snuff BottleRoyal Navy Cap Trench Art Snuff BoxCollection Solid Silver 18th Century Cherub Snuff Pill Box Pewter , Deco Compact1959 Polish 10 Zloty Coin Snuff Box Or Pill Pot . Trench Art . Poland PolskaCollectible Old China Handwork Snuff Bottle Armored Dragon Phoenix Sf52d61Very Rare Snuff Box, American, Indian Stage And Bears 19th Century