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Boxes, Boxes, Boxes

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Lot 133, George IV Silver Oblong-Shaped Box, 1828, London, estimate $500 – $700

DSC_8317-1280pxWe are pleased to have a diverse collection of Snuff, Patch, Pill, Powder and Vinaigrette boxes for offer in our sale on February 21st. These delicate and elaborate keepsakes were made using a variety of materials such as vermeil, silver, porcelain, papier-mâché, enamel, nut, shell and horn.

Snuff, a smokeless tobacco made from ground or pulverized tobacco leaves, was inhaled or “snuffed” into the nasal cavity delivering a swift hit of nicotine. It has been used for centuries for medicinal and social purposes. The indigenous populations of Brazil were the first people to have used ground tobacco as snuff.

DSC_8352-1280pxThe Dutch, who named the ground powdered tobacco “snuff” (snuif), were using the product in 1560. By the early 1600’s, snuff had become an expensive luxury commodity. In 1611, commercially manufactured snuff made its way to North America by way of John Rolfe, the husband of Pocahontas, who introduced a sweeter Spanish variety of tobacco to North America.

In the late 16th century, Catherine de Medici used snuff as a panacea in treating her persistent headaches. She was so impressed with the substance that she promptly declared it should be termed Herba Regina or the Queen’s Herb, which helped to popularize snuff among the French nobility.

DSC_8852-1280pxBy the 18th century, snuff had become the tobacco product of choice among the elite. King George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, who was referred to as “Snuffy Charlotte,” had an entire room at Windsor Castle devoted to her snuff stock. Snuff came in many flavors including rose, lavender, and ginger. Napoleon, Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, and Marie Antoinette all used snuff, as well as numerous other notable persons. The taking of snuff helped to distinguish the elite members of society from the common populace, which generally smoked tobacco.

DSC_8300-1280pxAs the demand rose for snuff, so did the need for decorative snuff boxes. Some were small enough to fit in a waistcoat pocket, and others were larger; all gave 18th century craftsman an opportunity to execute rich and elaborate designs. Snuff boxes reflected the art and craft of the painter of miniatures, the enameler, the jeweler, and the gold and silversmith. Lids often were decorated with typical 18th century subject matter such as allegories and flowers. Sometimes they were ornamented with cameos or encrusted with precious jewels in arms and crests. Less expensive boxes were constructed of copper, brass, horn, tortoiseshell or wood. The mull, a silver-mounted ram’s head, is a large table snuff box. Some rare boxes were even worn as articles of jewelry in the 18th century.

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View the preview for the February 21st auction of Objets de Vertu, Silver and Jewelry >

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