Wednesday, February 25, 2015

History's Runway: A Silver Tobacco Box, 17th C.

Silver Tobacco Box, c. 1655
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Western Europeans were introduced to tobacco in the Sixteenth Century when the herb was brought from the Americas.  From about 1570, tobacco was highly prized for both its alleged medicinal and obvious narcotic qualities.  By the 1630s, tobacco use was accepted (for men) as a fashionable habit for all classes though the cost was rather prohibitive for those without extra spending money.  For centuries, tobacco was chewed or smoked in a pipe, or combined with other herbs or spices to create snuff which was inhaled through the nostrils. 

Given the cost of tobacco, it was only fitting that special containers would be created for it, especially ones meant to appeal to wealthy tobacco users.  A precious tobacco box was quite the fashionable accessory.  This silver tobacco box is an excellent example of that trend.  Made around 1655, it was intended for personal use, its slightly-domed oval lid engraved with heraldic ornament—namely the crest of the Wayte Family from the Isle of Wight. It is further adorned with a cabled wire ornament at the rim and base. The back bears the inscription: “JW / 1680 / R W Jan 1st / 789.”  Though the inscription was finished in 1680 (the date of presentation), the hallmark for the creation of the box indicates 1655-1656.

The owner of this box would have carried it in his pocket.
  Due to this practice, the corded molding has been worn away.  

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