How To Take A Pinch Of Snuff

How To Take Of A Pinch Of Snuff

A lot has been written about snuff taking customs - many in-depth instructions can be found in the books listed in the snuff books section.

One of the most widely referenced methods is ‘How To Partake Of A Pinch Of Snuff’, taken from a book titled ‘Tobacco’, which was written in 1857 by Andrew Steinmetz.

In the book, A. Steinmetz explains that; “The true artistic method of ‘taking a pinch’ consists of twelve operations:

1. Take the Snuff-box with your right hand.
2. Pass the Snuff-box to your left hand.
3. Rap the Snuff-box.
4. Open the Snuff-box.
5. Present the box to the company.
6. Receive it after going the round.
7. Gather up the Snuff in the box by striking the side with the middle and forefinger.
8. Take up a pinch with the right hand.
9. Keep the Snuff a moment or two between the fingers before carrying it to the nose.
10. Put the Snuff to your nose.
11. Sniff it in with precision by both nostrils, and without any grimace.
12. Close the Snuff-box with a flourish.”

Found in Tobacco by A. Steinmetz, published in 1857.

Steinmetz goes on to explain that; “The true snuff-taker, who is bold in his propensities, always has a large wooden snuff box, which he opens with a crash, and which he flourishes about him, with an air of satisfaction and pride. He takes a pinch with three fingers, and then bringing the whole upon his thumb, he sniffs it up with that lusty pleasure with which a rustic smacks a kiss upon the round and ruddy cheek of his sweetheart.”

Advice from the Wilsons states: “A little perseverance may be required to acquire the habit but the stimulating effect, subtly different to that of smoking tobacco, can be found to be equally satisfying whilst avoiding the known risk of smoking.”

The advice from the experts is that you will sneeze at first but take another two pinches within the next half hour and the desire to sneeze will go - and the “indefinable lift” will follow.

How to take snuff as described in the magazine “la gazette de Venise” dated 1760:

  1. Take the snuff box within right hand
  2. Put it in your left hand
  3. Tap on the snuff box
  4. Open the snuff box
  5. Present the snuff box to the company
  6. Gather the tobacco in the snuff box by taping on its side
  7. Take a pinch of tobacco with your right hand
  8. Keep it between your fingers before taking it to the nose
  9. Present the tobacco to the nose
  10. Sniff with accuracy with your two nostrils
  11. Do not show an ugly face
  12. Clutch the snuff box, close the lid
  13. Sneeze, spit, blow your nose

There are more than a few widely accepted methods of taking snuff. One of the most common is to simply take a pinch of snuff between your thumb and forefinger and sniff it sharply into one of your nostrils, and then into the other.

It is important to remember that the snuff should only be sniffed into the nose, not snorted. The snuff needs to remain in front of your nose, it is not intended to go into your sinuses or throat.

There is a interesting expansion of A. Steinmetz’s and la gazette de Venise’s snuff taking instructions published on Everything2 titled Snuff Etiquette and copied below.

As smoking declines in both popularity and legality; this advice is becoming relevant to a new generation of tobacco users who are choosing to insufflate rather than smoke.

Therefore to remain ‘up to snuff, and a pinch above’, it is imperative that a young gentleman learns the correct manner for snuff-taking.

Here follows an etiquette guide for the new snuff user:

Traditionally gentlemen do not take snuff when ladies are present.
However if you are in a situation where modern interaction would usually allow both sexes to smoke, for example a public house, then it is acceptable.

Formal etiquette dictates that women abstain from tobacco until at least fifty years of age. (Had Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, heeded this advice she might have avoided the nickname ‘Snuffy Charlotte’)

Your snuffbox should be chosen for the occasion.
For example a silver, ivory or mother-of-pearl snuffbox is appropriate for a formal event, and a brass or teak snuffbox is appropriate for watching rugger. A snuff-pouch is not considered a suitable container because the snuff will often become too moist. Pewter is a definite no-no as the metal is too soft.

Napoleon was once given a fragile mother-of-pearl snuffbox by Empress Josephine. When it broke through overuse Napoleon was distraught until Josephine gave him another one.

This demonstrates two things, firstly that there are consequences for not using an appropriately robust snuffbox, and secondly that cry babies do not make good Emperors.

Take the snuffbox from your pocket and pass it into your left hand.
Your inner left jacket pocket should be used to store all tobacco products.

Tap the snuffbox with your middle and forefinger so that the powdered tobacco gathers at one side.
This will also alert your acquaintances that snuff is about to be passed around.

Open the snuffbox and inspect the contents.
Check that the tobacco is not damp and that it is finely powdered If it is unusable, or if there is insufficient snuff to provide for the group, there is no shame in returning the snuffbox at this point.

Present the snuffbox to the surrounding company with a courteous bow.
The snuffbox travels clockwise and should only be held in the left hand. This is reminiscent of the way port is passed.

Receive the snuffbox back with the left hand.
Gather the snuff by striking the side with the middle and forefinger.

Take a pinch with the right hand, between thumb and forefinger.

Hold the snuff for a second or two between the fingers before taking.
Apart from allowing sufficient time to pass the snuffbox forward without keeping people waiting, this is also to display that you are not greedily hoarding the snuffbox.

Carry the pinch to the nose.
Never lean towards your hand. If anything snuff should be taken with your head tilted slightly backwards. Snuff can also be taken from an indentation formed at the base of the thumb. If you place your hand flat on the table with your fingers spread. Then as you raise the thumb this will reveal what is known as ‘The Anatomical Snuffbox ‘or colloquially ‘The Poorman’s Snuffbox’. This method is not recommended because the valuable snuff is far more likely to spill.

Snuff with precision by both nostrils and without grimaces or distortion of the features.
This is a very important point of differentiation between British and European snuff-takers. On the continent it is acceptable to let out a large sneeze after taking, however in Britain that is considered quite rude.

It is also very important that you sniff but do not snort. The snuff should not enter deeply into the sinuses.
Contrary to this advice in 1820 the double barrelled snuff pistol was invented; it was capable of packing a day’s worth of snuff into the nose using an explosive charge. This kind of behaviour would be considered vulgar by anyone’s standards.

Close snuffbox with a flourish.
Return the snuffbox to your jacket pocket.

Wipe nose and collar with a handkerchief.
Specialist handkerchiefs are available, they are usually colourful, patterned and silken. They are made to be thrown away because they will rapidly become soiled dark brown whenever the nose runs.

So hopefully out of the above snuff taking instructions, you’ll have found a method that will enable you to take a pinch of snuff.

More will be added to the How To Take A Pinch Of Snuff page shortly.

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Sunday 04 November, 2007
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