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Why antique silver snuff boxes are so popular

Monday, 24 June 2013

In 17th century England, the act of sniffing or inhaling a pinch of scented, powdered tobacco was extremely popular, especially amongst the more affluent circles. As this past-time became more popular across the world at the start of the 18th century, so did the boxes used to hold this sweet powder; snuff boxes. 

With the world-wide growth of this hobby and the items used, snuff boxes became more elaborate, ornamented and decorated. Soon, they were considered an extremely valuable gift. Not only did they provide a way for wealth to be shown to all who caught a glimpse, but they also created much needed work for 18th century craftsmen who could use this new trend for their own creative purposes, creating intricate designs, using valuable gemstones, and using the silver to really show people just how creative and original their designs really were. 

 Antique silver snuff boxes became so popular that, through the 18th century, many people actually wore them as items of jewellery. Of course, snuff boxes could be made out of any metal – copper, brass, silver, gold, tortoiseshell and even wood – but antique silver boxes were by far the most popular, coming second only to gold snuff boxes in terms of value.

Nowadays, antique silver snuff boxes can bring in a wealth of interest from collectors, and generate a huge interest in terms of money. In auctions, these highly collectable items can range anywhere from £100 right up into the thousands of pounds. It was only in December last year that an antique silver snuff box dating from 1845 belonging to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, an engineer and mechanic from England, sold for £16,000 – 8 times its original valuation price.

Equally as impressive, in July 2006, an antique silver snuff box given to a House of Commons door keeper by Winston Churchill was sold by Sotheby's auction house for an impressive £14,400.

It's not difficult to see why these beautiful boxes can garner such an impressive interest from a variety of collectors these days. With such a vast and eloquent history behind them, and so masterfully designed, many of these snuff boxes can, in themselves, be classed as works of art. 

The ornate William IV silver snuff box displayed is by Francis Clark, Birmingham 1832.

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