Enjoyed as a luxury among many eighteenth-century Virginians including the Washingtons, snuff was often carried in small containers such as this one. Its elegant design belies the indecorous ritual of snorting the powder through the nose and sneezing to clear it out. Mrs. Washington had a penchant for snuff, much to the chagrin of some of her relatives. In 1799 her grandson-in-law Thomas Law wrote: "I have to thank Mrs. Washington & to be angry at her sending snuff to Eliza-such an attention tho' it envinces her kindness yet it encourages a bad habit."


Hinged ellipsoid mother-of-pearl and gilt copper alloy snuff box; the mother-of pearl lid and base are fit into a gilt copper alloy collar that also form the interior walls; the top and bottom of the box are secured together with a seven finger joint integrally cast with the collar and fixed by a copper alloy pin; the perimeter of the top of the lid are engraved with successive swags filled with a three-petaled flower, each rise punctuated by a single drop; the ground of the lid is filled with a swaged garland of bell flowers; at the center is a recessed oval above which is a smaller recessed circle.


1770 - 1790



Mother of pearl, copper alloy, gold


Overall (Case): 1/2 in. x 3 1/8 in. x 1 in. (1.27 cm x 7.94 cm x 2.54 cm)

Credit Line

Purchased by the A. Alfred Taubman Acquisition Endowment Fund and partial gift of an anonymous donor, 2004

Object Number


Colors (Beta)

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