Friday, 3 August 2012

Objects in Focus: Snuff Mulls


 ©Carsten Flieger
In the Carmichael Collection housed at the West Highland Museum, Fort William there are a number of snuff mulls. These were made from various materials: horn, bone, ivory, wood, stone, sea-beans (the larger entada gigas) and were used to carry snuff. The mulls in the photographs are all made from horn. 
 ©Carsten Flieger
Snuff was extremely popular in Scotland during the 17th and 18th centuries, and was used by both men and women, rich and poor. The photographs show the traditional conical style with a lid (unfortunately only one lid) and the other style was a barrel-shaped container. These snuff mulls were for personal use and could be carried around in your pocket but they were gradually replaced by boxes. There were larger mulls that were used communally, and these often had wheels on the base to pass them easily around the table. A ram's head with both horns was popular for table mulls and occasionally the hoof of a horse would be used! 
 ©Carsten Flieger
The snuff mulls came in all shapes and sizes but the most popular were made from a ram's horn and maintained the curl. In the photo below the decoration is quite striking, a bird's head with a precious stone for the eye and, on top there is silver plating with AD 1792 inscribed. The lids were used to keep the container as airtight as possible as tobacco dries up very easily when exposed to air.  

 ©Carsten Flieger
So what exactly is snuff? It is a pulverised tobacco that is insufflated, or snuffed, through the nose. There were two main methods for taking the snuff, outlined here by D.F.N. Harrison: Some will transfer a pinch direct from snuff-box to nostril, while others use a silver spoon to convey it from the back of the hand to the nostril. 
 ©Carsten Flieger
It was commonly believed that snuff was great for curing certain ailments, particularly for diseases of the head (toothache, decongestion, bad breath). In CW110/2 there is a great example of the 'curative power' of snuff:

Cure – A crofter woman in Cnoc an torrain was winnowing bere on the knoll when a grain of bere went in her ear. Her friend tried to extract the grain of bere from the womans ear but failed. Part of the awn was still attached to the spiligean and after its manner its always pushed forward. The ear became inflamed and the woman was suffering much She noticed the Dotair Ban (Dr Alexander Macleod passing and she ran out to meet him and described her condition. He put a large dose of snuff on his dearna – palm and requested her to sniff it all up. She did so while he took a firm hold of her nostrils. She sniffed and  sniffed and sniffed again and at last threw the grain of bere out some five feet away.

Snuff was so closely linked with Scotland that in England a wooden effigy of a Scotsman in full Highland dress was often found outside tobacco shops!

References
CW110/2

Harrison, D.F.N. 'Snuff: Its Use And Abuse', The British Medical Journal , 2:5425 (1964), pp. 1649-1651
Images
Carsten Flieger

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [© carstenflieger.com]