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Where Did Snuff Come From?

The practice of taking snuff gained popularity in England around the seventeenth century. It had become known at a later time in France but also Scotland because of the countries’ contact in France and the French Court.

In the past, the sign that was used to identify a shop that sold tobacco was an image of a Scottish Highlander in full kilt and carved into wood. The design was intended to be similar to the Indian tobacco store signs that are seen across North America.

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It is thought that the practice of smoking snuff first began in Central or South America before the advent of the Spaniards. It is possible it was they who were the people who introduced the habit to Europe.

Louis XIII of France forbade the use of snuff other than as directed by physicians. At the time, they believed, as a lot of people still believe, that snuff helps keep the person from getting sick and eases the symptoms of catarrh and similar complaints.

Papa Urban XIII ordered that anyone found guilty of taking the snuff at church must be banned from the church.

The Tsar Michael I of Russia decreed that smokers be punished in the first instance and then executed for the second, whilst snuff takers should be treated rather more gently – they were only to get their noses cut off!

SP Snuff is perhaps the most popular blend in the world. It was named after a battle that took place off the shores of the Spanish port of Vigo, in 1702. The French fleet that was there was guarding an important Spanish galleon fleet. The convoy had come from in the West Indies following an attack made by a combined English or Dutch fleet. It was under the control by Admiral Sir George Rooke.

One ship, the Torbay which was under the command of Vice-Admiral Hobson – was becalmed and trapped in a compromising situation. A modern chronicler wrote:

“All this while Admiral Hobson was in a very dangerous situation because he was pinned onto the board by an French Fireship, whereby his riggings were in flames He was sure to be burned; however, it turned out that the French vessel, that was a Merchantman , laden with snuff, and fitted in a hurry to become an Fireship before being blown up and the snuff was at least, slowed the flame, and saved from being consumed. English Man of War from being consumed.”

The war, for which Hobson received a knighthood as well as pension of PS500 and was responsible in launching the fashionable fashion of snuff-taking in England. The booty from the captured Spanish galleons included a large quantity of snuff. It was subsequently offered for sale in London.

Referred to as “Spanish” by clerks, they quickly abbreviated this to ‘SP’, thereby naming the most popular mix of all.

In the 18th century, smoking snuff became commonplace throughout the globe. Snuff boxes, which were usually heavily ornamented, were worn as jewellery and given as valuable gifts. The lids of these were often decorated with miniature pictures of the period including allegories, romantic scenes of pastoral beauty and flowers.

They are held in high regard as the most sought-after examples of finest miniature work by miniature artists, enamellers, jewellers and silversmiths.