Our beloved Horatio, the hero of Trafalgar, the master of the Nile, makes the press once more. Nelson, like many during his time and indeed before, indulged in the gratifying practise of taking snuff. – A pinch, here. A pinch, there! And now, you could own the snuff box that, according to The Telegraph, was the catalyst to the affair between the Englishman and his mistress, Lady Hamilton. This ‘trinket’ (c.1799), as articled on Friday, 13th January, is to be offered for sale by Paul Fraser Collectibles, a firm based in the City of Bristol, at a [starting] price of £45,000.
Tobacco, since its formal European introduction in 1559, has been of influence to the order of the Old World to depths almost incomprehensible to man, indeed it still remains core to society, for good or for worse, in the twenty-first century; an epoch centred on instruction by the State. Imperative to trade it was, enjoyable to smoke it remains, an element of global culture which, in some countries and societies, prevails as a political tool. Tobacco remains a universal substance, one of unification, one of abuse for profit, and an accelerant to death; leaves of nature held dear by humankind.
But, what is snuff?
It is tobacco leaves; pulverised, pulsed, and minced to perfection for nasal inhalations. In the eighteenth century, empires were fuelled on it, it was the precursor to true cigar smoking, cigar smoking itself a precursor to the smoking of cigarettes. Indeed, the handkerchief that we all adore finds its popularism in this peculiar habit, for when one took snuff, the streaming of noses was all too common, as was sneezing, thus the hanky became a necessity.
Glorious boxes, purposed at storing this delicate powder, were designed. Some were gold, jewelled, and engraved. Others were of horn or tortoise shell; some potato, and others papier-mâché. Now, a large proportion of these antiquated pieces fetch considerable amounts of money.
Snuff, cheap to purchase (less than £5 per ounce), untaxed by the British government, and lacking in known health hazards, promotes social cohesion…but perhaps only in a minute way. Its peculiarity is enticing, captivating, and prompts interest. A stranger takes a pinch, conversation is initiated, socialising is mobilised all through an inhalation of ground tobacco. Is this at all bad?
Note: Pictured (taken in London, 2016) is a bow window, part of the shop front of what was once Fribourg & Treyer (1720-1981), a formidable English purveyor of snuff. Now, nothing but a name in history. Though, Wilsons of Sharrow, sell snuff under the name of F&T; unaltered blends, some dating to the eighteenth century.