Description Originating in the Americas, the practice of “taking snuff,” or inhaling pulverized tobacco through the nose, became a common European custom by the 17th century. Consumers of all social levels and of both sexes would carry small, airtight boxes filled with the powdered tobacco, taking a pinch whenever they needed. Over time, however, society’s elites began to purchase and commission increasingly extravagant and precious boxes. Kings and Queens would often present snuffboxes to ambassadors as diplomatic gifts and to courtiers as payment for services. Made of a variety of precious materials, including gold, enamel, semiprecious stones, lacquer, and tortoiseshell, snuffboxes were coveted and enthusiastically collected. Displaying one’s collection of prized snuffboxes or stylishly retrieving an elegant box from one’s pocket were important social rituals; these objects revealed a person’s tastes, interests, and erudition. This is a particularly special snuffbox, as it features a compartment for snuff, a calendar watch, and a music box. To the left of the central compartment, which features a relief of musical instruments, is the mechanized music box that, when open, reveals a man pumping water, a girl filling a cup, and a woman calling her chickens. To the right of the central snuff compartment, is a clock with four dials: one indicating hour of the day, one revealing the days of the week, one reporting the day of the month, and one that tracks seconds.
- Objects of Vertu: Precious Works of the Eighteenth Century. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1984.
Provenance Henry Walters, Baltimore [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest.
Inscriptions [Goldsmith Mark]On interior lid, for Guidon, Gide, et Blondet Fils: crowned GGB; [Mark of Warranty or Décharge] on exterior bezel, unidentifiable.
Credit Acquired by Henry Walters
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