The Little Antique Box

28 Feb


The Pill Box

Because many of us today are reliant on medication for different types of ailments, we are frequently given, by our medical practitioner tablets  to help alleviate the problem I thought the Little Pill Box of times gone by of interest as they are not only pretty but also a collectors item. They are sometimes confused with snuff boxes which I will come to later, and were popular during the 18th and 19th century and a little larger than the pill box, but either way they are still collectable and the value varies depending what material the said box is made from. The artisan however, would have used whatever material was at hand. Wood was the first material used for these boxes to hold pills along with animal bones, ivory and different metals such as tin ,copper and gold as well as jade Some were of silver, others were enameled and displayed beautiful painted scenes. These pretty little boxes were made to keep on the bedside table, some of them were small enough to be carried in the ladies purse. Some of these pill boxes featured embossed figurines or mosaics, some were shaped to represent a book or a ladies shoe and many other different shapes.

Pills and tablets to help cure us of our ills have been around since ancient times, historians calculate at least back to 1,500 BC, offering precise dosages, portability ,easy administration and a minimum of discomfort that other methods of treatment do not. Before this, herbs and other elements were simply added to whatever the patient was drinking. Crude pills were first made by incorporating the same medicinals in something sticky, such as small, rounded blobs of honey, dough or grease. The Greeks called them katapotia or ” things to swallow,” but the Roman Pliny gave us a modern term: pilula .Hand manufacturing of modern pills began in the 1830’s when gelatin pills were invented. Below are some examples of the beautiful little pill boxes. I think you will agree they are much more attractive than the modern day plastic pill boxes.  This paragraph  Courtesy Roger Morris.




Pill box 19th century French Enamel and gold.

Pill box Italian silver

Pill box Vienna porcelain 19th century


Snuff is a smokeless tobacco made from pulverized tobacco leaves. It is inhaled or “snuffed” into the nasal cavity, delivering a swift intake of nicotine and a lasting flavoured scent (especially if flavouring has been blended with the tobacco). Snuff originated in the Americas and was in common use in Europe by the 17th century. Traditional snuff production consists of a lengthy, multi-step process in tobacco mills. The selected tobacco leaves are first subject to special tobacco curing or fermentation processes, where they will later provide the individual characteristics and flavour for each type of snuff blend. Snuff is usually scented or flavoured, with many blends of snuff, requiring months or even years of special tobacco leaves considered original “fine snuff” without any addition of scents or essences. Varieties of spice, piquant, fruit, floral and mentholated (also called “medicated”) soon followed, either pure or in blends. Each snuff manufacturer usually has a variety of unique recipes and blends, as well as special recipes for individual customers.  Common flavours also include coffee, chocolate ,honey ,vanilla, cherry. apricot plum, campher,  cinnamon, rose and spearmint. ” Wikipedia Commons”

Christopher Columbus first came across the American Indians snuffing an unknown powder on his voyage in 1494 and brought quantities of the powder back to Europe. When examined this substance was proved to be close to what we now call snuff and became popular among the French and the Spanish and fashionable amongst aristocrats inclusive of Royalty, both Kings and Queens

Gradually the common man began to know the pleasures of snuff too and small mills were established across England in cities such as London, Sheffield and Manchester in order to supply the growing demand. Retailors also set up shops to deal with the demand for snuff and of course the highly sought after delightful little snuff boxes with which to store the snuff in.  Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries snuff production boomed, outstripping smoking tobacco or ( chewing tobacco). Everyone seemed to be taking snuff and was recommended by doctors as a general cure-all for the treatment of coughs, colds and headaches

Snuff boxes were made in a great variety of materials such as gold, silver. lapis lazuli, jade agate, tortoiseshell and horn ..The more wealthy the owner the more elaborate the box would be. It would be decorated with engravings or ornamented with the family crest . Some were decorated with precious stones such as diamonds, rubies, emeralds or pearls and if given as a present most likely it included a portrait within the box or an inscribed message from the giver .Below are a few illustrations of snuff boxes.

Papier Mache Snuff Box Late 18th century

Silver mounted Turtle Shell snuff box 18th century

This beautiful Wooden Shoe Snuff Box is superbly carved with flowers and hearts and was created in Wales

Meissen Gold mounted oval Snuff Box c 1750-60

Another beautifully carved Snuff Box 19th century made in Birmingham.

And last but not least The Snuff Taker

Picture of a man taking snuff using the thumb and forefinger as was the custom.











Posted by on February 28, 2019 in Uncategorized


2 responses to “The Little Antique Box

  1. Kathleen_Vail

    March 3, 2019 at 7:32 pm

    A wonderful post, Rita! I’ve always been interested in these beautiful little boxes but never knew the difference. Thanks! xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ritaroberts

    March 4, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    Some of them are really beautiful Kathleen and I never did manage to get one into my Antique shop because if I had I would most likely have kept it.



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