England: 17th & 18th

England: 17th & 18th

Snuff first came to Europe in the 16th century and was first advocated as a medicinal product, being used to treat headaches and other conditions. By the eighteenth century everyone from George IV to Samuel Johnson were consuming huge quantities of powdered and scented tobacco up their noses. The following is a short synopsis of the era.

 18th Century Society

Snuff became fashionable in the English court during the reign of English King Charles II (1649-51) who brought with him the snuff habit he had acquired abroad. It "took such a hold of the Court and the governing classes, the nobility and clergy, in France and England, that it almost entirely supplanted smoking. Snuff was fashionable; smoking was relegated to the middle and lower classes." This all changed after Vigo Bay.


The English navy unwittingly contributed to the popularity of snuff among the common people in England in 1702. Several Spanish and French ships were captured off Vigo Bay and several port towns including Port St. Mary taken during the Anglo-Spanish War by the fleet under the command of Admiral George Rooke. Rooke found "several thousand barrels and casks of fine snuffs" which were being sent to Spain from Havana.

 The Battle of Vigo Bay

The booty was dispensed on the shores of England in a very generous fashion. The elite concoctions of the snuff shop was offered to the commoner with dramatic reduction in price and increase in availability. What was previously several pounds was now a thrupence. It was said that "waggon loads of it were sold at Plymouth, Portsmouth, and Chatham for not more than three-pence or four-pence a pound". Some recount, that this event is what is memorialized in the "SP" appellation of certain scented tobacco mixtures today. The practice of inhaling snuff became common in England in the 17th century, and throughout the 18th century it became pervasive.

 18th Century Snuff Taker

Continuing during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714), where "snuff-taking increased to a great extent, and so did the varieties of mixtures, flavors, and names." French writer Francis Maximilien Misson says in a memoir of his travels that the 'smart fellows' in England "are call'd Fops and Beaux. ...They are Creatures compounded of a Perriwig and a Coat laden with Powder as white as a Miller's, a face besmear'd with Snuff, and a few affected Airs". Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1766-1818), Wife of William the III was also an avid snuff taker. She had an entire room dedicated to the powdered tobacco and was an avid consumer of all types of snuffs.

 18th Century Dandy - Queen Charlotte

The popularity of snuff led to the English farmer planting his own crops as documented in Ephraim Chambers reliable Cyclopedia of 1728 that lays out a practical plan for tobacco farming. Jonathan Carver also provides insight after decades of experiences with his volume "A Treatise on the Culture of the Tobacco Plant". The plant has been domesticated and is providing new sources of revenue and helping to create an industry. 

 18th Century Tobacco Harvest in England

The lion's share of the market however came from the New World. Brazilian being the most favored, followed by Cuban and then Virginian tobaccos. As a side note, the Virginia tobacco named "Orinoco"  was a marketing ploy by John Rolfe that worked incredibly well. He created the first tobacco brand that identified tobacco with New World mystery and lore.   

 Synonyms for Tobacco

There were certain 18th century snuff detractors. In 1760 Edward Baynard wrote a whole book of poetry about snuff, titled Health: to which are added cautions against the immoderate use of snuff, devoting 36 densely written pages to his task. Snuff was under attack. His oeuvre however did not seem to slow the progress of tobacco use or snuff taking in any significant way.


It is certain that this era in English history paved the way to the golden age of snuff which we will explore next time. S'Nuff said and happy snuffing.

N.B: Many thanks to "The Pirate Surgeon's Journals" for invaluable information as well as Iain Gately for his well written and masterful tome entitled 'Tobacco: Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization'.

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