Snuff box decorated with skulls, Beggar, Witch, King, and Beauty

1701-1900 in Europe

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

Wooden snuff box, cylindrical, lacquered, top painted with 4 skulls labelled King, Witch, Beggar and Beauty

These four skulls, labelled ‘“A Beggar”, ‘“A Witch”, “A King” and “A Beauty”, are common designs found on snuff boxes. The illustration represents Death as a social leveller, meaning that it will come to all people regardless of their social status, wealth or beauty. One theory suggests that the design is based on a Greek urn featuring images of skeletons with a passer by being asked if they can tell whether the living person was beautiful or ugly.

Snuff is powdered tobacco that was snorted or rubbed on to the gums and well-liked for its aroma, taste and nicotine boost. It was also believed to ward off colds and be good for ear, nose and throat problems and snoring.

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Science Museum: Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries

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Object Number:
snuff box
  • furnishing and equipment
  • container - receptacle
  • snuff container
Loan, Wellcome Trust

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