Friday, January 29, 2016

More Etiquette of Snuff

A nobleman with his fingers in his snuff box — Snuff is powdered tobacco, usually blended with aromatic herbs or spices. The habit of snuff-taking spread to China from the West during the 17th century and became established in the 18th century. People generally carried snuff in a small bottle. By the 20th century these bottles had become collectors' items, owing to the great variety of materials, precious stones, rock crystal, etc.... and decorative techniques used in their production.
More Snuff Etiquette

Traditionally gentlemen should never take snuff when ladies are present. However if you are in a situation where modern interaction would usually allow both sexes to smoke, for example a public house, then it is acceptable. 

Formal etiquette dictates that women abstain from tobacco until at least fifty years of age. (Wife of King George III, "Snuffy Charlotte," could have avoided that nick-name, had she heeded this advice).
The best of the Viennese tradition of gold box-making is shown in this superbly enameled snuff box, which forms part of a set. Catering for the necessities of elegant life, it comprises an étui or small case with a knife, snuff spoon, toothpick and ear pick, watch and châtelaine (from which one's watch hung) and a matching snuff-box. 

Snuff-boxes should be chosen for each varying occasion. For a formal event, a silver, ivory or mother-of-pearl snuff-box, is appropriate. A brass or teak snuff-box is much more appropriate for watching rugby, or 'rugger.' Pewter should not be used, as the metal is too soft, and a leather or cloth snuff-pouch is not considered suitable, because the snuff will often become too moist.

Take the snuff-box from your pocket and pass it into your left hand. Your inner left jacket pocket should be used to store all tobacco products.


Tap the snuff-box with your middle and fore-finger, so that the powdered tobacco gathers at one side. This will also alert your acquaintances that snuff is about to be passed around.              

Open the snuff-box and inspect the contents. Check that the tobacco is not damp and that it is finely powdered. If one finds it is unusable, or if there is insufficient snuff to provide for the group, there is no shame in returning the snuff-box to one's pocket at this point.


If one finds there is enough snuff for the present company, the proper etiquette is to present the snuff-box with a courteous bow. 

The snuff-box travels in a clockwise manner, (the opposite of food at a table) and should only be held in the left hand. It is very reminiscent of the way port is passed.

Receive the snuff-box back with the left hand.          
Above– A selection of Chinese snuff holders. French Emporer Napoleon was once given a fragile mother-of-pearl snuff-box by Empress Josephine. When it broke through his overuse, Napoleon was distraught until Josephine presented him with another.     

Gather the snuff by striking the side with the middle and forefinger. Take a pinch with the right hand, between the thumb and fore-finger. Hold the snuff for a second or two between the fingers before taking. This not only allows sufficient time to pass the snuff-box forward without keeping people waiting, but also displays that you are not greedy, nor are you hoarding the snuff-box.

Carry the pinch to the nose. Never lean towards your hand. If anything snuff should be taken with your head tilted slightly backwards. 

A fashionable, mustachioed gent's snuff holder ··· "Edward Wortley Montagu, the eccentric son of Lady Mary, is said to have possessed more snuff- boxes than would suffice a Chinese idol with a hundred noses— a collection which, perhaps, was never equaled, unless by that of King George IV, who was not less extravagant and recherche in snuff and snuff-boxes than in other things."— San Francisco Call, 1896
Snuff can also be taken from an indentation formed at the base of the thumb. If you place your hand flat on the table with your fingers spread. Then as you raise the thumb this will reveal what is known as 'The Anatomical Snuff-box' or what is sometimes known colloquially as 'The Poorman's Snuff-box.' This method is not recommended because the valuable snuff is far more likely to spill. 

One should attempt to snuff with precision by both nostrils and without grimaces or distortion of the features.                     
Above- An ornate, wooden snuff-box, in the shape of a boot. – According to Betty Boyd Caroli, Dolly Madison, the wife of US President James Madison, used snuff. Caroli writes, "Stained fingers left little doubt that she used snuff, not an acceptable habit for 19th C. ladies, but one that was excused in her." One woman supposedly mused that in Mrs. Madison's hands, "... the snuff-box seems only a gracious implement with which to charm" according to the author. It is also said that Mrs. Madison requested a closed casket at her funeral, as snuff-taking had falllen out of vogue for women and she did not want anyone to see her stained fingers. 

A very important point of differentiation between the etiquette of British and European snuff-takers, is that in European countries it is acceptable to let out a large sneeze after taking snuff. However, in Britain, doing so is considered quite rude. 

It is also very important that you sniff but do not snort. The snuff should not enter deeply into the sinuses. (Contrary to this advice in 1820 the "double barreled snuff pistol" was invented; it was capable of packing a day's worth of snuff into the nose using an explosive charge. This kind of behavior would be considered vulgar by anyone's standards.)          
"PARDON MY SNEEZE! —Dating from days when it was customary for gentlemen to take snuff, the two delicately, colored snuff-boxes at the entrance to the Senate chamber in Washington are kept filled while the Senate is in session. Here is Dick Oyster, in charge of stationery, filling them. Originally placed to prevent head colds, the snuff is still used liberally by the solons." — The Madera Tribune, 1937

Close your snuff-box with a flourish. Then, return it to your jacket pocket.


Always wipe your nose and collar with a handkerchief. Specialist handkerchiefs are available for this purpose. Usually found to be colorful, patterned and silken, they are made to be thrown away, as they will rapidly become soiled and a dark brown, whenever the nose runs.



Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia