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Snuff Storage

Page history last edited by Tony Barr 9 years, 2 months ago

One of the questions most commonly asked by newcomers to the world of snuff is how best to store snuff. Here I shall be exploring the various options for both short and long term storage of snuff.

 

The Public Enemy Number 1 for snuff is air, as strange as that may sound. On exposure to the air fresh snuff rapidly dries out and loses much of its flavour, becoming stale and unpalatable in weeks if not days, depending on the climate. There are two solutions to this problem, the use of oils in place of water for moistening the snuff and effective storage. English snuffs are not allowed by law to use the former but in other countries various substances may be used. In Germany many snuffs are moistened with small amounts paraffin oil (in place of the lard that was once employed) and in India ghee (clarified butter) is often used. The result is that the snuff dries out far more slowly than if just water is used to moisten the snuff.

 

But here we need to examine the options for effective snuff storage rather than the use of other moistening agents and we are concerned with how things are now rather than how they may have been in the past.

 

Today snuff is usually retailed in either small tins, boxes, dispensers or tubes containing sufficient snuff for a few days or a week for the average user, or in large, airtight, plastic containers which may hold 250g or 500g (1/2 lb or 1 lb) of snuff. Ideally the small tins, boxes, dispensers or tubes would be sufficently airtight to keep the snuff fresh for a long time but sadly, with but a couple of exceptions, this is not the case. In such containers the snuff rapidly dries and loses flavour even to the point of becoming unpalatable. This was never a problem in the past, when most snuff users had ready access to a local shop which stocked a variety of snuffs but unfortunately for most of us this is no longer the case. Instead we end up buying online or by mail order, ordering enough to last for weeks or months and trying to ensure that we get our money's worth for the amount spent on postage. Conversely the large airtight drums or tubs can keep snuff fresh for years as long as they aren't opened too often.

 

So where does this leave us for storing our snuff? Small containers really need to be kept in something else that is airtight. Ziploc bags provide a short term solution and Tupperware boxes (or similar) can work well for even longer periods, but even then, metal tins, unless of aluminium, have a habit of rusting, spoiling the snuff inside and there will usually be some loss of moisture and flavour over time. Far better to decant the snuff from the retail packaging into something better. Better would be glass jars with airtight lids or even food jars suitably cleaned as long as they seal well enough. Softer plastics tend to retain flavours (and are not totally airtight - the air does slowly migrate through the plastic) so containers made of those are less good for the purpose. Hard plastics are much better, but glass is probably the best material for such storage.

 

But overall by far the best solution is to only buy the small tins or boxes in order to sample different snuffs in order to discover ones favourite snuffs which can then be bought in bulk from the manufacturer or retailer. Snuff likes to be in bulk! It keeps freshest like that. Ideally bulk containers would be of glass but these days they are of good quality plastics which are as good as airtight. However we have to remember than every time we open such a drum we let in air which is the one thing we need to minimise.

 

This is where the proper snuff box comes in and solves the problem for us. It is a simple matter to transfer snuff from the bulk container to the snuff box on a daily basis so that the bulk container stays closed and airtight for most of the time, preserving the bulk of the snuff in as good a condition as possible.

 

Ideally we don't really want to open those large drums even as often as once a day so an even better solution is to have an intermediate stage in the process. This involves the use of smaller airtight glass jars or aluminium tins or tubes holding 25g or 50g (1oz or 2oz) of snuff. These are filled from the bulk drum and in turn they are used to fill the snuff box. Simple! Toque 25g screw top aluminium tins and Fribourg & Treyer 25g or 50g aluminium tubes are perfect for this and indeed, they are what I use for the purpose.

 

Finally this brings us to the question of snuff boxes. While a snuff box for every day use is not going to be prefectly airtight we do at least want them to be reasonably snuff tight. Such boxes can be made of wood (hinged or sliding top), pewter, papier mache, silver or even more exotic materials. Pewter tends to be a little soft and pewter boxes seem prone to hinge damage, silver boxes are usually expensive and wooden ones can dry the snuff out fairly quickly. Historically papier mache boxes were viewed as being best suited for the purpose but they can no longer be found new and old ones often have damage of some sort. Personally I tend to use wooden boxes, either sliding top Patrick Collins boxes or French made hinged ones. They are not particularly expensive and do the job well enough. I am quite happy at that.

 

My latest silver snuff box, made by Phipps & Robinson and hallmarked 1810. It even has my initials on the lid.

Phipps & Robinson were London silversmiths founded by Thomas Phipps (-1823) and Edward Robinson (-1816) with premises at 40, Gutter Lane. They produced mostly fine boxes (snuff boxes, nutmeg graters and vinaigrettes) in silver and gold, but also wine labels, knife stands, apple corers and other domestic items. They were active between c. 1783 and c. 1811.

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