Antique Snuff Boxes: Small and Valuable Treasures Worth Sniffing Around For

Swiss Enamel & Gold Snuff Box, circa 1740. Photograph property of M.S. Rau Antiques

I often tell Members of the 31 Club that money in the antique and collectible world can be made with items smaller than a bread box. Besides not taking up too much space in your home until you get them sold, you won’t be faced with transporting these small treasures back and forth, which eats away at your time and erodes your profit. Snuff Boxes and Snuff Bottles certainly qualify as items smaller than a bread box, and they can be quite valuable. Today, I’ll focus mainly on snuff boxes.

Snuff, used for many centuries, is a tobacco that is ground into a very fine powder. It’s sniffed through the nose, tucked behind the lip, or tucked inside the cheek. It came in either a dry form or a moist form.

In Europe, in centuries gone by, the use of snuff was a very popular social ritual, mainly with the elite. Many a high society lady or gent would never leave home without their stylish snuff box and would often have several to choose from. They even had snuff boxes for every season. In China, snuff bottles were very popular, and the bottle stopper had a little pad on the inside of it. The process for use was the same.

In 19th Century America, some women might have smoked cigars in public for its shock value, however, there were far more ladies discreetly using snuff, which was perfectly acceptable. This was Women’s Lib 19th Century style, and it caught on.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and we find that anything to do with snuff has become highly collectible. If you find one for a collector, they’ll pay you handsomely, especially for the right one.

Snuff boxes can be made from almost any material. They were often made of antler, silver, wood, brass, gold, pewter and many others. They also can be a combination of several materials, artistically decorated. Most boxes were decorated with gold or silver, often with the owner’s initials engraved on them. Many were highly decorated, and of course, these are quite valuable. Let’s look at a few values in Kovel’s Price Guide to see if your eyebrows move a little north:

A 3” Gold Enamled Box of a Harbor Scene, c. 1830 valued at $17,250. If that’s too rich for your blood, how about a Metal, Gilt, Musical, engine-turned panels sized at four inches for $14,950. These must have been owned by a very special lady or gent.

$32,500. That’s the price of the snuff box shown in Today’s Photo. Offered at M.S. Rau Antiques, and this Swiss Enamel and Gold Snuff Box, circa 1740, looks like it contains a double ivory portrait,adding to its value. This is a real beauty. When you take a look at all their high end snuff boxes, you’ll have a better idea of the high quality, high end boxes out there.

Remember, we look for the higher end, rare items. As we work our way up the 31 Steps, our ever increasing knowledge of true quality and rarity will help us along the way. Please make every effort to attend antique shows in your area to see high quality items up close and face to face. The first goal is to be able to recognize quality when you see it.

Snuff was not reserved for the high society crowd. We regular folks used it, too. I can still remember the way my Grandmother would quickly sniff a little, sneeze, and then hold her dainty handkerchief to her nose. As a child, I often wondered why she would do this. Maybe to clear her nose, I thought.

Today, snuff is a dying industry. To the ladies and gents of days long gone, aside from being the socially chic thing to do then, that special little high from nicotines was what they were probably after. In those days, the use of snuff also made the dentists very happy, too. It caused many a mouth problem and surely increased the bottom line in the dentists’ books.

If you’re interested in “sniffing out” more information on snuff boxes, you might start by reading Christopher Proudlove’s Blog on Snuff Boxes at WriteAntiques.com and Tobacco.org has a very informative timeline of tobacco that’s quite interesting.

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