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 Georgian Sterling Silver Snuff BoxSuperb Antique Silver And Enamel French Snuff Box (f66)Antique Austro-hungarian Impressive Large Solid Silver Snuff Box, 105g, 1837Antique Georgian Penwork Folk Art Treen Wood Snuff Box - Sleeping Shepherd BoyGood Quality Large Solid English Sterling Silver Snuff Box - Birm 1829Very Old Solid Silver 17th Century Spanish ?? Snuff CasketGeorge Iii Solid Silver Matthew Linwood Contoured Snuff Box 1809 BirminghamC1846, Fine Antique 19thc Early Victorian Solid Silver Engine Turned Snuff BoxChinese Enamel Snuff BoxSterling Silver Snuff Box Hinged Lid With Hand Chased DesignA Stylish Edwardian Solid Silver Snuff Box, George Unite, Chester 1903 VgcRare Georgian Sterling Silver Bright Cut Patch Toothpick Snuff Box 1786 Rare Antique Sterling Silver Snuff Box Railroad Masonic Presentation Ex!Vintage Amber Resin & Silver French Snuff, Trinket Box - Signed - Maiden & Dove!Exquisite Wood Carvings Vase Stand Base Furniture Decoration 4"Beautiful Clean Condition English Antique 1919 Solid Sterling Silver Snuff Box1850s Jenny Lind Miniature Portrait Paper Mache Snuff BoxNice Chinese Finely Hand Carved Silver Antique Snuff Box WAntique Engraved Dutch Copper Tobacco Snuff Box Dated 1741 (f63)Solid Silver Gold Inlay Snuff Box - 84gms - Superb Quality1902 Antique Silver Snuff BoxAntique French Hallmarked Silver Snuff BoxRare Vintage Hanau Sterling Silver Snuff Box Halmarked B&z Buchholz &zeltFine Antique Engraved Brass Snuff Box - Rare Hidden Comb Hinge - W. BarberA Fine Georgian Engraved Brass/white Metal? Snuff Box C1780/1800Antique Sterling Silver Pill Snuff Hinged Box Repousse Asian Goddess 19 GA Superb Solid Sterling Silver Match Box Case Or Snuff, Pill Box Dates 1922.Revolutionary War Super Pocket Curved Copper Snuff Box 1780's Small 3 Inch Rare Wooden Snuff Box , Tabatiere , Like A Shoe .Nice Little Wooden Snuff Box , Tabatiere , Like A Shoe .Antique French Carved Snuff Box - Prisoner Of WarAntique Ornate Sterling Silver Snuff Box Apple Pickers W/ ExtrasAntique Brass & Copper Book Shape Snuff Box - Love TokenAntique Paper Mache Hinged Hand Painted And Gold Print Design Snuff BoxRare Wooden Snuff Box , Tabatiere , Like A Shoe , With Decorative DetailsRare Wooden Snuff Box , Tabatiere , Like A Shoe .(repair) Sterling Silver | Gold Accent Antique Snuff Box (opens!) 16.3g | CharmUnique Silver Tone Bird Shaped Pill / Snuff / Vinaigrette Box Antique Vintage Victorian Old Engraved Large Size Brass Snuff Boxbelwood 1851Antique Victorian Mop Shell Stamped Hinged Silver Snuff Tobacco Trinket BoxVintage Kemps Chocolate Biscuit Litho Print Tin Ornate Antique Casket,snuff BoxEdwardian Solid Silver Adie & Lovekin Hinged Snuff Box 1904 BirminghamGreat Antique Paper Mache Snuff Container With Ornate Painted Top-circa 1840sTortoise Shell Snuff Box With Inscription Regarding Pope Leo Xiii 1901Snuff Box, Tabatiere, Handcarved In Form Of A Persian Slipper 9 Cm Antique 1800s Indo-persian Betel Nut / Paan Box. Silver Snuff Opium IndianHallmarked Sterling Silver & Enamel Spitfire Plane Box Snuff Pill Keepsake19th Century Antique Wood Pressed Cork French Snuff Box Romantic Scene Exquisit Rare Highly Detail Antique Russian? Solid Silver Filigree Snuff BoxA Beautiful Victorian Style Hallmarked Sterling Silver Rose Pill Snuff Box Mark Mcnairy New Amsterdam Snuff Suede Chukka Boot. Size Us 8. New In Box.Estate Vintage Victorian Engraved Pill Snuff Box Silver Gold Signed N. M. Pairpoint Silver Plate Pill / Snuff / Stash Box "sweets To The Sweet"Antique Hallmarked Compass Nmop-austrian? Round Sterling Silver Snuff BoxAntique British Sterling Silver Snuff Box Birmingham Hallmark With Assay StampMark Mcnairy New Amsterdam Snuff Suede Longwing Brogues. Sz Us 8. New In Box.Sterling Silver Oval Hinged Pill Snuff Box Onyx Stone Stamped 925 Antique Pretty Mother Of Pearl Inlaid Papier Mache Snuff Box C1880Old Dr Rumney's Peppermint Snuff Tobacco Tin BoxTwo Hinged Abalone Alpaca Silver Mexican Pill Snuff Box