Tobacco jar in the shape of a skull

Made:
1701-1800 in Japan
Group shot of various memento mori, showing the variety of origins and different materials in the collection. From left Group shot of various memento mori, showing the variety of origins and different materials in the collection. Clockwise Group shot of various memento mori, showing the variety of origins and different materials in the collection. Clockwise Group shot of various memento mori, showing the variety of origins and different materials in the collection. Clockwise Group shot of various memento mori, showing the variety of origins and different materials in the collection. Clockwise Group shot of various memento mori, showing the variety of origins and different materials in the collection. Clockwise Group shot of various memento mori, showing the variety of origins and different materials in the collection. Clockwise

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License this image for commercial use at Science and Society Picture Library

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Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Group shot of various memento mori, showing the variety of origins and different materials in the collection. From left
Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London.

Group shot of various memento mori, showing the variety of origins and different materials in the collection. Clockwise
Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London.

Group shot of various memento mori, showing the variety of origins and different materials in the collection. Clockwise
Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London.

Group shot of various memento mori, showing the variety of origins and different materials in the collection. Clockwise
Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London.

Group shot of various memento mori, showing the variety of origins and different materials in the collection. Clockwise
Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London.

Group shot of various memento mori, showing the variety of origins and different materials in the collection. Clockwise
Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London.

Group shot of various memento mori, showing the variety of origins and different materials in the collection. Clockwise
Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London.

Tobacco jar, wood carved in form of human skull, with ivory snake crawling through ear and eye sockets, 18th century(?), Japan

Made of boxwood, this tobacco box has been skilfully carved into the shape of a human skull, with an ivory snake slithering through the ear and eye sockets. Tobacco grew in popularity across the world from the 1600s onwards, favoured for its taste, aroma and nicotine boost.

The design is similar to a memento mori, used to remind a person of the shortness of life – the health risks now associated with smoking were not really known until the middle years of the twentieth century.

Look closer

Tobacco jar

Details

Category:
Smoking
Collection:
Sir Henry Wellcome's Museum Collection
Object Number:
A74840
Materials:
boxwood and ivory, snake
type:
tobacco jar
taxonomy:
  • furnishing and equipment
  • container - receptacle
  • tobacco container
credit:
Stead