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Nose enema, or snuff taking. 

Shortly after tobacco was introduced into Europe, snuff taking was invented, that is the sniffing of powdered tobacco leaves. This was not an entirely new concept, as powdered herbs had previously been consumed this way under the advice of doctors and barber-surgeons. Various aromatic herbs such as marjoram, mint, pigweed,  ginger, celandine as well as others have been used this way. The taking of medicines through the nose was mysteriously called 'Clystrium nasi', which simply means nose enema. This tradition dates back to mythological Greek times when Prometheus brought to life a man made of dirt by placing a small bottle full of sunshine under his nose. Today we are more likely to do a similar thing with ammonia to fainted ladies. 

There were many followers of the nose enema, and snuffing became a kind of social habit with its own rules, rituals and etiquette.  When in company, one would ostentatiously pull out their snuff-box and offer it to the other guests. One would then take the snuff-box in two fingers, hold it awhile, and then inhale deeply. The reaction was immediate - the snuffer would redden and begin to sneeze loudly. Sneezing, coughing and even spitting after snuffing was something that was accepted and obvious. Snuff-boxes themselves varied greatly. The great people of this world would have snuff-boxes that were real art works and even jewelry. Some kings personally created artistic snuff-boxes and presenting them to subjects was considered as the highest decoration. They were also higly valued collectabilia  reaching enormous prices. 
Most snuff users had more simple snuff-boxes. Sometimes they were fine-wrought boxes, sometimes horns, and sometimes personal knick knacks. My uncle had a snuff box made from a cartridge he brought from Verdun, where he defended the glory of Prussia. He used to tip the snuff onto the hollow that appears between a lifted thumb and wrist, than he would ceremonially lift his hand to his nose and ... sneezed so loudly that my aunty would block her ears with whatever she had in hand - it could be a ladle, when she mixed soup, or a darning egg, when she darned socks.. 

A huge snuff user was the Emperor of French, Napoleon I (1769-1821). It was estimated that he would use three kilograms of tobacco monthly. He did it often during the day, as in his time, there was not yet a way of consuming enough tobacco to last a whole day. It was a year before his death that the snuff double barrel pistol was invented . The amunition chamber was filled with tobacco and the barrels was placed under the nose, the trigger was pulled, and the shot delivered enough tobacco to the nose to last for an entire day. I wounder if it ever occurred to any clown to replace a snuff gun with a real gun..

A great lover and collector of snuff-boxes was Frederick the Great of Prussia (1721 - 1786). Among his collection he had some real works of art and jewelry. He gifted these to some of his most faithful subjects which was the greatest honor for a Prussian. The George III, king of England (1738 - 1820), treated his hobby somewhat differently, he not only collected snuff boxes, he also created them with great skill and artistic talent. 

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Snuff box from the collection of Frederick the Great of Prussia
(gold, jewels, mother of pearl) 

Snuff-box personally turned by king George III 
(gold, ivory)


Elegant horn snuff-box, England 1850, (trimmed with silver).

 


 

(C) (selected from publications of 
 R. Antoszewski

Titirangi, Auckland, 
New Zeland

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April 2003

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