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Snuff box

  • Place of origin:

    Birmingham (possibly, made)
    West Midlands (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1765-1775 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Enamelled copper, with chased gilt-metal mounts

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Myles Burton Kennedy, Esq.

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 118; The Wolfson Gallery, case 1

Object Type
This box was almost certainly a portable container for snuff. Snuff was formed from fermented tobacco mixed with various combinations of perfumed oils, herbs or spices into a compressed block, which was then grated to make a fine powder ready for inhalation. English painted enamel boxes with hinges linking lids to bases were a phenomenon of the 1740s. Painted enamel watch-dials and the like had already been made for years, and metal goods, including hinges and boxes with separate lids, were already produced in the West Midlands. But the hinged enamel box came about because there was a demand for boxes which could be held open in one hand while taking a pinch of snuff with the other. These boxes also provided attractive giftware at more affordable prices than imported Continental precious metal boxes.

Ownership & Use
The fashion for snuff-taking was at its height in the 18th century. The snuff box was a must-have accessory for gentlemen and even for some ladies. There were different mixtures of snuff for different times of day and different seasons, and definite rules about the way to hold the box and take the snuff.

Design & Designing
Raised Rococo scrolls enclose panels on the lid and four sides of this box. Each panel is deftly painted with groupings of fruit and vegetables. Although vegetables are very unusual on English painted enamels, there was a vogue for vegetable-shaped porcelain tableware in mid-18th-century Britain. The arrangements of vegetables on this box, though, are more reminiscent of French still-life paintings of the mid-17th to mid-18th centuries by artists such as François Desportes (1661-1743).

Place of Origin

Birmingham (possibly, made)
West Midlands (possibly, made)


1765-1775 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Enamelled copper, with chased gilt-metal mounts


Height: 3.49 cm, Width: 8.25 cm, Depth: 6.35 cm

Object history note

Made in Birmingham or the West Midlands

Labels and date

British Galleries:
The enamelled copper technique was applied to snuffboxes from the 1740s. This box was made in one of the West Midlands enamelling centres - Birmingham, Bilston or Wednesbury. Its subject and very detailed painting are exceptional for these commercial centres and was inspired by German and French porcelain examples. [27/03/2003]


Containers; Personal accessories


Ceramics Collection

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