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Snuff rasp

  • Place of origin:

    Netherlands (made)

  • Date:

    1650-1700 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Tropical hardwood (probably teak or padouk), carved and inlaid with ebony and ivory.

  • Credit Line:

    Given by J. H. Fitzhenry

  • Museum number:

    1420-1902

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 7, The Sheikha Amna Bint Mohammed Al Thani Gallery, case CA14 []

Tobacco usage was first experienced by Europeans when Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492. The Spanish colonists first began cultivating it in Santo Domingo in 1531. By the 1570s it had swept through Europe, and the organizaton of the tobacco trade took place in the 17th century. Spain declared Seville the tobacco capital of the world in 1614 with all tobacco produced for sale in New Spain travelling through Seville first. King James I was the first to tax tobacco and King Louis XIV was the first to make its sale a state run monopoly. Consumption rose and trade with the Jamestown colony multiplied enormously, from 200,000 pounds sold to England in 1624, to 3,000,000 pounds in 1638. In the 1680s Jamestown was producing over 25,000,000 pounds of tobacco a year, for sale in Europe.

Snuff, or powdered tobacco, was widely popular throughout Europe from the 17th century. Sniffed from the back of the hand, from pinched fingers or from a spoon, snuff was enjoyed on social occasions and would be placed on the table or passed around a group.

Although commercially-produced snuff was available, many 'snuffers' preferred to make their own. Snuff rasps such as this one enabled a portion of snuff to be prepared at any time by grinding a bundle of tobacco leaves on the metal grater or rasp. The small size and weight of this example suggest it was designed to be portable. A thin sliding panel covers the rasp when not in use, and attached to one end is a brass spoon or scoop, to hold the snuff under one's nose.

Snuff-taking was a largely upper-class pursuit and snuff accessories were often highly decorated. This example of carved teak is inlaid with rosewood, ivory and tortoiseshell. The front and back are decorated with a rectangular panel enclosing a star between two areas of foliage. Outside the panel is an eight pointed star and the sides are edged with a rope motif of ivory. The iron grater is decorated with sunk zigzag lines.

Physical description

A snuff rasp with sliding cover, of tropical hardwood (possibly teak or padouk), inlaid with ebony and ivory, with formal panels of decoration centring on stars.

The rasp is rounded at one end, where it is fitted with a small brass scoop, to dispense the snuff that is grated into a recess behind the inset grater panel of tinned iron, pierced with holes in a pattern of zig-zags. The edges of the rasp are inset with alternate short lengths of ebony and ivory, with a rounded profile, creating a chequered edge moulding. The cover is inlaid with a narrow frame, composed of ebony edged with ivory stringing. This is set at either end with paired fronds of acanthus, emerging from the corners, and centrally with a four-pointed star of alternate 'facets' of ebony and ivory. The rounded top of the slide, outside this panel, is inlaid with a similarly faceted 8-pointed star. The back of the rasp repeats the pattern of the sliding cover on a larger scale.

Place of Origin

Netherlands (made)

Date

1650-1700 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Tropical hardwood (probably teak or padouk), carved and inlaid with ebony and ivory.

Dimensions

Length: 24 cm, Width: 4.5 cm, Depth: 1.3 cm

Historical context note

Snuff was produced by grating small wads of dried tobacco. It was popular with both sexes and in many social circles in the 17th century.

Descriptive line

A snuff rasp with sliding cover, of tropical hardwood (possibly teak or padouk), inlaid with ebony and ivory, with formal panels of decoration centring on stars.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Pinto, Edward H. Treen and other Wooden Bygones.London: G. Bell & Sons, 1969. pp 352 - 356

Labels and date

Snuff grater
1650–1700

Dutch Republic, now the Netherlands

Tropical hardwood inlaid with ebony and ivory; steel grater

Given by J.H. Fitzhenry [09.12.2015]

Materials

Teak; Ebony; Ivory; Tortoiseshell

Techniques

Carving; Inlay

Categories

Personal accessories

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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