What was snuff?

A finely ground smokeless tobacco inhaled through the nostrils, ‘taking snuff’ originated in the Americas.

What was snuff? © Getty Images

It was introduced into Spain following Columbus’s second voyage to the New World in the 1490s.


The supposed medicinal properties of tobacco saw it spread around Europe, rising in fortune in the 1560s when the French Queen Catherine de’ Medici declared it a wonder for headaches (it had been recommended by John Nicot, who later gave his name to nicotine).

The fashion spread throughout Europe, and by the 1700s snuff was considered a luxury product and mark of refinement. Sneezes were common after a pinch of snuff but they would be mocked as the sign of a beginner.


Though the stereotypical image of the snuff-taker is the Georgian dandy, it was also popular among women – George III’s queen was so fond of it that she earned the nickname ‘Snuffy Charlotte’. As with most fashions it fell from favour, as new stimulants appeared.

This article was first published in the February 2016 issue of History Revealed. Answered by one of our Q&A experts, Emily Brand. For more fascinating questions by Emily, and the rest of our panel, pick up a copy of History Revealed! Available in print and for digital devices.