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Tobacco jar, Japan, 1701-1800

Made of boxwood, this tobacco box has been skilfully carved into the shape of a human skull, with an ivory snake slithering through the ear and eye sockets. Tobacco grew in popularity across the world from the 1600s onwards, favoured for its taste, aroma and nicotine boost. The design is similar to a memento mori, used to remind a person of the shortness of life – the health risks now associated with smoking were not really known until the middle years of the twentieth century.

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Glossary: smoking

A practice where a substance, most commonly tobacco is burned and the smoke inhaled. It is currently practiced by over one billion people worldwide (2008)

Glossary: tobacco

No description.

Glossary: tobacco jar

No description.

Glossary: memento mori

Symbols intended to remind the viewer of death. Memento mori are often objects such as skulls or hourglasses, but can also be written inscriptions.

Glossary: nicotine

A chemical compound that forms 0.6-3.0 per cent of the dry weight of tobacco. Nicotine acts as a stimulant in mammals, and is one of the primary reasons for smoking addiction.