|My new treasure: an antique papier-mâché snuff box.|
It's such a tiny thing, only about 1.5" wide and 3" tall, but the romance of it looms large in my imagination. Consider it's interesting origins: it was made generations ago, by a craftsperson most likely from Birmingham, England. Perhaps a second artist in the same workshop painted the tiny portrait onto this perfectly formed box made from nothing but paper pulp hardened with enamel. Perhaps it was a special commission for a local gentleman who would have carried it in his pocket, containing a day's worth of snuff. I can't imagine how many owners this box has known in its 150+ years, but I'm thrilled to be the most recent!
|A view of my new acquisition along with another |
papier-mâché box from my collection.
Taking snuff is an odd habit, isn't it? I gather from my reading that the custom travelled from the new world to Europe with Christopher Columbus whose crew members witnessed it being used by the Taino in Haiti. Tobacco use, not surprisingly, spread quickly through Europe, and by the later 17th century, air-tight boxes made from precious materials were being crafted. There were larger examples for communal use at the table (still present in the House of Lords and US Senate), and more precious small pocket-sized versions for personal use.
|A shell-form snuff box, Capo di Monte, ca. 1750. |
Soft-paste porcelain with French silver-gilt mounts.
Image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum Collections.
If you take a moment to browse through the snuff boxes held in collections like that of the V & A Museum, you can see from the variety and quantity that there must be something in human nature that is fascinated with tiny boxes. Snuff boxes were exchanged and presented as gifts long after the snuffing craze waned, and are voraciously collected today. I can imagine that the precious scale, multi-purpose box format and the object's inherent intimate nature inspired both the artisans and prospective collectors. The snuff itself, however, is definitely not my cup of tea!
|I couldn't resist sharing this curiosity: 1894 Kinetoscope of Fred Ott taking a snuff and then sneezing, taken by Thomas Edison's laboratory. Courtesy Wikipedia|