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    

Large Antique 19th Century Solid Silver Scottish Snuff Mull Superb Decorative Antique Victorian B1890 Solid Sterling Silver Table Snuff BoxBrass Miners Snuff Box James Holmes Riply Derbyshire 1909 Pipe Antique MiningStunning Solid Silver Nathaniel Mills Castle Top Snuff Box 1837Beautiful Georgian Antique Solid Silver Snuff Box London 1814Antique 20thc Austrian Solid Silver & Guilloche Enamel Card Case / Box C1922Snuff Box Victorian Antique Buffalo Horn Scottish Provincial & Metal Ring PullHeavy, George Iii Silver Table Snuff Box, 1805, 238gmOval Sterling Silver And Enamel Box - Mappin & Webb London Import 1910 - 4.65ozChinese Dragon Mountain Carved Table Snuff Box Antique Trinket Storage VolcanoBeautiful Solid Silver Snuff Box Birmingham 1902Antique Sterling Silver Indochina Enamel Maltese Tiger Snuff Box Ruby ChineseFine Solid Sterling Silver Embossed Victorian Table Snuff Box Birmingham 1894Superb Large Victorian Heart Shaped Solid Silver Table Snuff Box Chester 1898Decorative Antique Art Nouveau Brass Snuff Box Victorian Trinket Storage C1900Antique 18thc Dutch Solid Silver Gilt Tobacco Box, C Woortman, Amsterdam C1798Beautiful Solid Silver Victorian Snuff Box Birmingham 1899 Matthew John JessopAntique Persian Isfahan Sterling Silver Engraved Small Snuff Box No ReserveLovely Solid Sterling Silver Embossed Victorian Table Snuff Box Birmingham 1887Fine Pair Chinese Porcelain Monkey Form Snuff Bottles, Qianlong Mark To BaseMauchline Ware Snuff Box With Oak Leaf DesignSuperb Decorative Antique Victorian 1898 Solid Sterling Silver Table Snuff BoxAntique Solid Silver Gilt Snuff Box John Rose BirminghamSolid Silver Embossed Victorian Table Snuff Box London 1896 William Comyns 125gRare Antique Georgian 4 Dial Puzzle/combination Snuff With CombinationEnglish Sterling Silver Antique Victorian Vesta Case Matchsafe Match Snuff BoxNapoleon Hand Painted Snuff Box C1810 Papier Mache No Reserve Roman EmperorA Fine Quality English Vintage 1981 Solid Sterling Silver & 9ct Gold Snuff BoxRare Antique Japanese Ginbari Cloisonne Koi Fish Butterfly Snuff Trinket BoxSuperb Decorative Antique Victorian B1890 Solid Sterling Silver Table Snuff BoxAntique 20thc Austrian Solid Silver & Guilloche Enamel Vanity Case Compact C192514k Gold & Sterling Silver Pink Guilloche Enamel Antique Snuff Box Case DecoLovely Vintage Sterling Silver Pill Trinket Snuff Stash Floral Flower BoxAntique 19th/20th Century Coffin Shaped Hand Carved Mahogany Snuff Box3 Rare Battersea Halcyon Days Enamels Bilston Miniature Trinket Snuff BoxesVintage 800 Fine Silver Floral Design Snuff Pill BoxUnusual Victorian Treen Shoe Form Carved Table Sewing / Snuff Box - 1Extremely Rare Solid Silver Enamel Guilloche Snuff Box Austrian G.a.s Circa 1876Fine Quality Antique Solid Silver Snuff Box; Francis Clark; Birmingham 1835Fine Small Antique Sterling Silver English Hallmarked Snuff Or Trinket BoxC.19th Hm Solid Silver Cushion Shape Snuff Box Grait Condition George Iii2 Superb Antique / Vintage Portugal Sterling Silver Pill Snuff Box Trinket BookAntique Early 1800's English Lacquered Snuff Box Painted Lady Paper Mache Nr YqzFine Antique Chinese Export (to Persia) Solid Silver Snuff Box Khecheong C1830Stylish Vintage 1971 Engine Turned Solid Silver Trinket / Snuff BoxA Victorian Queen Victoria/prince Albert Commemorative Snuff Box 1840A Fine Antique Solid Sterling Silver Round Pill Or Snuff Box Birmingham 1918.Schrade Usa Copenhagen Snuff Advertising Single Blade Knife In BoxAntique Georgian Turned Painted Whitewood Trinket Or Snuff Box - Tunbridge Ware Old Sterling Silver Pill / Snuff BoxesRare 18th C Battersea Bilston Staffordshire Enamel Pocket Snuff BoxStunning Large Size Decorative English Antique 1905 Solid Silver Table Snuff BoxCollectible Decorated Old Handwork 0x B0ne Carved Cicada Climb Leaf Snuff BottleTrench Art Brass Snuff Pill Box Ww1 German Notgeld Vintage 1918 Stadt Duren CoinUnusual Victorian Treen Shoe Form Carved Table Sewing / Snuff Box - 2French Snuff Boxe With Napoleon CarvedStylish Vintage London 1976 Solid Silver Trinket / Snuff BoxRare Asian Chinese Wood Collectable Carved Fish Snuff Box , Pill Box ,seal BoxJapanese Sterling Silver Figural Snuff Box In Fitted Original Case SignedExtremely Rare Solid Silver Rubies & Turquoise Austrian Cloissone Snuff Box 1882