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Cigarette case

Cigarette case

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)

  • Date:

    1879 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Girandon & Réal (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Artificially coloured fish skin (shagreen), with a hinged metal frame and clasp and purple watered silk lining

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 125b, case 3

Object Type
This cigarette case is a luxury item, made of sharkskin which has been artificially coloured and lined with silk. It was imported from France for sale in Howell and James's shop in Regent Street, London, in the 1870s. Cigarettes had first become available in Britain in the 1850s, and their portability and ease of use made them popular with those who could afford them. Cases for them came into use because they were more easily damaged than a wad of tobacco.

Travellers introduced tobacco into Europe from the Americas in the 16th century. It was chewed or smoked in pipes; it could also be mixed with other ingredients to inhale as snuff. Tobacco was also associated with medical usage. Some of its earliest users claimed that it would cure toothache, chilblains, ulcers and wounds! The forerunner of the cigarette was the cigarillo, a small cigar brought into Britain by soldiers returning from the Napoleonic wars in Spain.

Social Class
Tobacco quickly became popular with all classes, although it was not considered appropriate for respectable women to use it until the 1930s. Cigarettes were originally made by hand, and used by the better off. The poorest classes kept the habit of chewing tobacco and the use of clay pipes the longest. They could not easily afford cigarettes until the 1880s, when a move to machine production made them cheaper and easier to buy.

Physical description

Pale green shagreen cigarette case, artificially coloured fish skin (shagreen), with a hinged metal frame and clasp and purple watered silk lining

Place of Origin

Paris (made)


1879 (made)


Girandon & Réal (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Artificially coloured fish skin (shagreen), with a hinged metal frame and clasp and purple watered silk lining


Height: 9 cm, Width: 6.1 cm, Depth: 2.4 cm

Object history note

Made by Messrs Girandon & Réal, 48 rue Molière, Paris. Bought from Howell & James of Regent Street, London for £2 and 10 shillings (worth just over £100 in today's money)

Descriptive line

cigarette case

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Cigarettes became fashionable during the 1850s. Soldiers smoked them during the Crimean War (1854-1856) and brought the habit back to Britain. New accessories were produced, such as cases, lighters and holders. Some were made of fish and lizard skin. Others were mounted in precious metals and were engraved with the owner's name. [27/03/2003]


Shagreen; Metal; Silk


Accessories; Europeana Fashion Project


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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