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Snuff rasp

  • Place of origin:


  • Date:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved fruitwood, inlaid with ivory, stained woods and mother of pearl, turned ivory, glass painted on the reverse and metal

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Although tobacco was introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century, the way in which it was used differed greatly from modern habits. A fine tobacco powder known as snuff was inhaled from the back of the hand or the fingertips. Dried tobacco leaves were generally sold in tightly bound bundles, and, although commercially produced snuff was available, many snuffers preferred to make their own. Snuff rasps like this one were developed to be conveniently carried in a pocket so that a portion of snuff could be prepared at any time by grinding a bundle of dired tobacco leaves on the metal grater or rasp. Some snuff rasps incorporate a snuff-box to hold any excess produced, although this examples does not.

Snuff-taking was an expensive habit and could only be afforded by the well-to-do, with the result that snuff-related objects, such as rasps and boxes, often incorporate precious materials like ivory, and are beautifully decorated with carving or inlay. This German example is made from fruitwood inlaid with ivory, mother of pearl and stained wood. The decoration shows a man playing the violin. The form of this snuff rasp is quite unusual in that it has a separate sliding lid topped with mirror glass (now damaged). The lid was intended to cover the metal grater, protecting the owner's fingers and pocket lining.

Physical description

Snuff rasp in two parts. The main part has a metal grater on one side and a man playing the violin, depicted in ivory, mother of pearl and stained wood inlay to the reverse. To the sides are twist-turned columns in ivory and there is an ivory finial. A separate sliding lid is set with a panel of mirror glass, the silvering engraved with flowers. This panel is now broken and partly missing.

Place of Origin




Materials and Techniques

Carved fruitwood, inlaid with ivory, stained woods and mother of pearl, turned ivory, glass painted on the reverse and metal


Length: 9.75 in, Width: 2.85 in

Descriptive line

wood; German; 18th c.


Fruitwood; Ivory; Mother of pearl; Metal; Glass


Hand carving; Inlay (process); Staining; Painting; Turning

Subjects depicted

Violin; Man


Personal accessories


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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