Snuff was first discovered during Christopher Columbus’second voyage to the New World. Indeed, a Franciscan monk noticed some natives sniffing a powder. Specifically, they were sniffing through a Y-shaped cane. Two ends were inserted into the nostrils. The plant became known as tobacco. A Spanish physician brought back leaves and seeds. This was the first time tobacco had appeared in Europe. Snuff was obtained by grating a roll of tobacco into powder.
Well known snuff addicts
Napoleon was said to keep the snuff loose in his pocket. This must have been somewhat messy. In any event he also possessed a gold snuffbox given to him by Pope Pius XV. This he left in his Will to a friend. Lord Nelson and Marie Antoinette also became keen users. Many women were addicts, at one time superseding the number of male takers.
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Snuff becomes popular
Snuff became a common commodity when a British Fleet plundered the port of Vigo. Large quantities were discovered in several Spanish galleons. The snuff was distributed among the sailors as booty. It was soon sold cheaply and consequently became very popular. Miners took it into the mines where there could be no risk of gas explosions. Printing workers also used it.
Snuff as a medical cure
In 1560 the French Ambassador to Lisbon sent some tobacco leaves to the French Queen Catherine de’ Medici, since snuff was believed to be medicinal and could cure migraines. On the other hand, Queen Elizabeth I issued a decree against the misuse of tobacco.
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Snuff in North America and elsewhere
Snuff gradually arrived in North America. John Rolfe, husband of Pocahontas, helped spread its use. In Britain it became popular after the Great Plague of London in the 1660s. It gradually became known throughout Europe, also in China and Japan. Here many beautiful bottles were produced to contain it. King Charles II advocated taking snuff on his return from exile.
Uses of tobacco
Tobacco was used in three different ways in the early years. For example, the chewing of plugs of the stuff as seen in many ‘Western’ films.The juice was expelled through the unpleasant habit of hawking and spitting. Tobacco juice can cause many complaints in the mouth. Therefore many cowboys must have had painful mouth ulcers and decayed teeth… Smoking and snuff taking followed. Incidentally, Pope Urban VIII banned snuff-taking among the clergy during mass. French King LouisXV also banned it at the French court.
Snuff boxes come into their own
Snuff boxes are much sought after by collectors. These were made in many different materials from wood to ivory, porcelain, gold and silver. They became a status symbol, some embedded with jewels or painted with portraits or battle scenes. Carl Fabergé created some for the Tsar. Prices can range from a small amount to thousands of dollars (see Winston Churchill in previous article).
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In 2007 the World Health Organization concluded that snuff-taking bore little relationship to cancer. It is not taxed in the UK, while in the US it is less easy to find. Each box bears a warning about health risks. Smokeless tobacco products are banned in Australia. (by Susy)