All About Snuff

Curious About Snuff?

Basically, snuff is a harmonious compound of pulverized tobaccos, to which aromatic essences may or may not be added. To make the best snuff, the finest tobacco leaf is selected and carefully blended. The leaf undergoes several processes involving heating and fermentation, during which the natural harshness of the tobacco is eliminated. Depending upon the type of snuff required – coarse, medi­um or fine – the tobacco is milled or ground by means of heavy pestles, either machine or water powered, in oak mortars and then sieved to ensure consistency of the requisite grain size.

At this point, the essences are added – their blending constitutes a trade secret and some formulas have been handed down generation after generation for more than two hundred years. Pure essential oils, such as Bergamotte, Carnation, Attar of Rose, Jasmine and Sandalwood, or in the case of Medicated Snuffs, Menthol or Eucalyptus are added to delight the nose.

Snuff is divided into three main groups – the dark moist, coarse Snuffs, medium Snuffs and the light, dry finely-ground Snuffs.

Finally, the snuff is brought up gently to the desired moisture content – moist medium or dry – and packed for sale. In the case of High Toast snuff, the tobacco – after fermentation – is ‘toasted’ before being milled, in order to impart the distinctive nutty flavor for which this snuff is renowned.


When Christopher Columbus discovered America, he and his companions found the natives enjoying tobacco by means of Y-shaped tubes through which they sniffed the substance into their nostrils. Credit is given to the Italian, Romano Pane, for having introduced snuff into Europe. It was first used by a member of the illustrious Medici family, for whom it had been prescribed to relieve headaches. Soon, however, its medicinal use became secondary and taking snuff for pleasure developed into a fashion among the European royalty and aristocracy.

The use of snuff spread rapidly through all the social classes and by the 18th century, Dr. Samuel Johnson – an inveterate snuff-taker himself – had good reason to make his celebrated statement, “Smoking has gone out.” The 18th century was truly the ?Age of Snuff’ and the most beautiful boxes of gold, silver, tortoise-shell, ivory and other precious materials, sometimes fabulously decorated with jewels, miniature paintings or tiny automata, were made during this period to contain the powdered tobacco.

In England, snuff held its own until the mid-19th century, when staid Victorian society no longer tolerated the brightly colored snuff-handkerchiefs which were an adjunct to the use of this form of tobacco. Despite a decline in the overall popularity of snuff, it was still taken extensively in many environments and among many professions where smoking could not be practiced: doctors, lawyers, judges and clergymen, for example, remained faithful to snuff, as did tailors, printers and miners, among others.

In the 20th century, snuff yielded, for the most part, to the universal onslaught of the cigarette, although it did retain a strong body of devotees in certain places such as Ireland, Western Scotland, Iceland and Southern Germany – where a special type of snuff containing Brazilian tobacco was developed in the late 19th century and achieved lasting success.

The Surgeon General’s report on cigarette smoking has led many people in the United States to seek other means of finding pleasure from tobacco, and snuff has gradually been returning to favor. The use of snuff has been shown to be harmless to health, as the tobacco is quickly eliminated by the action of the mucous membranes of the nose. In Europe, physicians often prescribe snuff for patients who suffer from sinus headaches. Other advantages of snuff include its relatively low cost: an ounce of snuff goes a great deal farther than an ounce of smoking tobacco, as well as the great variety of types of snuff available.


Snuff-taking is not merely an alternative way of taking tobacco. The great variety of perfumes and flavors used in Snuff blending (Peppermint, Lavender, Lemon, Orange, Cinnamon and Clove, to name but a few) give a very wide field for pleasant exploration and enjoyment.

Most Snuff-takers take Snuff because it is refreshing and invigorating, and because it counteracts the mental fatigue caused by the stress and strain of modern life. Others take Snuff because they find it keeps them free from colds and gives relief from catarrh and similar complaints. It has also been said that Snuff stimulates the mind.


The best Snuffs for the beginner are those in the medium group which, while introducing the pleasure of Snuff-taking, do not have the pungency and penetrating effect of either the very coarse, dark types, or the very fine, light varieties. Most Snuff manufacturers produce all three varieties, and Mr. Bill’s will undoubtedly be able to recommend a suitable Snuff to begin with. Email us at [email protected] for a recommendation for you.


If you have never used snuff before, the best way to begin is to take a small pinch between thumb and forefinger, bring it to the nose and sniff it in. Alternatively, a small amount of snuff may be deposited in the small hollow on the back of the hand at the base of the thumb and sniffed into the nose from there. It is most important to avoid a violent inhalation of the snuff. Some people may experience sneezing or watering of the eyes the first time or two that they take snuff, but these manifestations quickly disappear and the pure enjoyment of the tobacco remains.

By taking snuff, you are sharing in a rich and fascinating tradition that extends back hundreds of years. In addition to the very real satisfaction yielded by a pinch of fine snuff, you will find that snuff is an excellent way of making friends and ‘breaking the ice’ at parties or other social gatherings. An attractive snuffbox is always a conversation piece and the taking of snuff itself can be an occasion for interested comment – as well as a way of introducing others to the great pleasures offered by this form of tobacco.


Over the years, Snuff has been the start of many great friendships. The passing of a Snuff-box will “break the ice” in many a social gathering, serve as an ­introduction, and create a talking point to the mutual advantage of all Snuff-takers.

In this day of No Smoking – Try a pinch and Enjoy the Smokeless Enjoyment


“The true artistic method of ‘taking a pinch’ consists of twelve operations:

  1. Take the Snuff-box with your right hand.
  2. Pass the Snuff-box to your left hand.
  3. Rap the Snuff-box.
  4. Open the Snuff-box.
  5. Present the box to the company.
  6. Receive it after going the round.
  7. Gather up the Snuff in the box by striking the side with the middle and forefinger.
  8. Take up a pinch with the right hand.
  9. Keep the Snuff a moment or two between the fingers before carrying it to the nose.
  10. Put the Snuff to your nose.
  11. Sniff it in with precision by both nostrils, and without any grimace.
  12. Close the Snuff-box with a flourish.”

A. Steinmetz, Tobacco, London, 1857.