On Nasal Snuff

Recently, I have been enjoying nasal snuff immensely. I have a few friends who are getting into it as well–apparently, I have odd friends.

Nasal snuff is tobacco which has been as carefully cured and flavored as the most delicate pipe tobacco, the most complex cigars. It is then ground up, sieved, and packaged for freshness. Unlike full-leaf tobaccos, I doubt that nasal snuff would age well, even if carefully sealed. When one snuffs, a pinch is taken and inhaled through the nose with a short, shallow sniff. It takes some practice to not let it hit the back of your throat, where it burns like the dickens, but when done successfully, it provides one of the most unique and enjoyable tobacco experiences; a vibrant, intimate, and intoxicating smell fills your nose and mouth. Depending on the ‘flavor’ it can range anywhere from wet and fermented tobacco leaves to minty fresh burn to fruity to merely pleasantly sweet. 
There are different types that center around each country; the U.S.A. has a love for dry, dusty, sweet snuffs, while England seems to like a little wetter, clumpy medicinal snuffs. Germany has both types, but their traditional schmaltzer has an oil base (using, sometimes, the clarified butter known as schmaltz). Their drier snuffs are almost always mentholated. 

There is something charmingly antiquated about snuff-taking, and in certain circles it surrounded with a ritualistic fervor. Take, for instance, the guidelines for snuff-taking from the website of London’s Worshipful Company of Tobacco Pipe Makers (the Guild for tobacconists): http://www.tobaccolivery.co.uk/about-us/our-traditions.html

How to partake of a pinch of snuff

“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.” A Steinmetz, “Tobacco”, 1857.

Derby Miniature Toby Jug An early 19th century Derby miniature Toby Jug showing a snuff taker with striped breeches and hat lid, 4.25 ins, sold at Gorringes’ Auction House, West Sussex, 2010

The artistic and perhaps more genteel method of “taking a pinch” consists of at least eleven separate operations:

  • Take the snuff box with your right hand.
  • Pass the box to your left hand.
  • Rap the box on the lid to clear any snuff from the lid and hinges
  • Open the snuff box with care
  • Present the box to the company
  • Receive the box after it has gone the round
  • Gather up the snuff in the box by striking the side with your middle and forefingers.
  • Take up a pinch between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand. Note: this should not be too large an amount – a little goes a long way!
  • Keep the snuff a moment between the fingers before carrying it to the nose. This aids the release of the delicate oils. DO NOT place it on the back of your hand.
  • Sniff it with precision by both nostrils (and without any grimace!)
  • Close the snuff box with a flourish.

You will probably sneeze at first, but this is entirely natural. Persevere by taking another two pinches of snuff within the next half hour and the desire to sneeze should disappear. You should now begin to experience that indefinable pleasure which only a good pinch of snuff can give.”

Now, with a ritual like that, it’s hard to imagine a snuff, as indelicate as it may seem, being coarse or ugly. It was popular among gentleman and rustic alike, ladies and crones, beggars and kings. I hope we see a resurgence of its use here in Texas, since it’s so dad-blamed hot here. It opens up a different part of tobacco tasting–indeed a different part of tasting in general. Too often we only feel food, drink, and leaf with our mouths, letting our poor noses go un-stimulated. Snuff opens up those sensations, and reminds us that scent is as important as our other four senses. 

It also allows for several beautiful accessories–some of the most beautiful jewels and precious metals have adorned snuffboxes. Just take this Faberge for example:

Decadence!

We have three varieties of snuff at the shop, all American style, and are about to get in a fourth–the famous Wilson’s of Sharrow. I’ve tried all three, and can honestly say that they’re all fantastic. Dental Sweet is a spicy, but chocolaty snuff, Dean Swift is smooth and very flavorful, and Silver Dollar lets the savor of the tobacco shine through its delicate aromas and strong sensation.  

Come give nasal snuff a try! It’ll make your nose tingle with tobacco-joy. 

In Smoke (and dust),

Ross

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