Smoking, drinking and the British sweet tooth

Group of snuffboxes

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Group of snuffboxes

Snuff is a preparation of ground tobacco, perfume and water, taken by sniffing up the nostrils. It was introduced to the British aristocracy by Charles II in the 1660s and, during the 1700s, snuff-taking became a highly fashionable pastime. Snuffboxes became the latest fashion accessory, the most highly decorative boxes given as diplomatic or military gifts.  Snuff was publicly used by many high profile figures of the day, including Princess Charlotte, Frederick the Great of Prussia, Pope Benedict XIII and Napoleon.

The 1700s saw the first health warnings about the use of tobacco, from English doctor John Hill who warned that overuse of snuff tobacco could lead to nasal cancers. Governments also began to see the economic potential of snuff-taking and, in 1794, the US government imposed the first snuff tax.

Snuff-taking declined in popularity in Europe during the 1800s, though it remained popular among professions such as medicine, law and the clergy, where smoking was considered unacceptable. It was also popular among miners, for reasons of safety. By the 1900s, however, it had virtually died out, as cigarettes became the tobacco of choice.

This information was provided by curators from Gallery Oldham.