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Wooden snuff box, Europe, 1701-1900

These four skulls, labelled ‘“A Beggar”, ‘“A Witch”, “A King” and “A Beauty”, are common designs found on snuff boxes. The illustration represents Death as a social leveller, meaning that it will come to all people regardless of their social status, wealth or beauty. One theory suggests that the design is based on a Greek urn featuring images of skeletons with a passer by being asked if they can tell whether the living person was beautiful or ugly. Snuff is powdered tobacco that was snorted or rubbed on to the gums and well-liked for its aroma, taste and nicotine boost. It was also believed to ward off colds and be good for ear, nose and throat problems and snoring.

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Glossary: snuff box

a small usually ornamental container for holding snuff Boxes, usually having a hinged lid and small enough to be carried in the pocket, used for holding snuff

Glossary: tobacco

No description.

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.

Glossary: snuff

Tobacco that has been finely powdered. Snuff is usually sniffed through the nose, or applied to the gums with a finger.

Glossary: lacquer

A varnish that dries by the process of evaporation to provide a hard, protective finish.