Tuesday, 30 March 2010

A Rustic Peterson 313

My latest eBay acquisition arrived this morning, a rustic Peterson System Standard 313, dating from somewhere between 1949 and 1963, judging by the faux hallmarks on the nickel band. I tend to think of this period as "early republic" in terms of Peterson pipe dating, as opposed to the earlier pre-republic pipes, dating from around 1920 to 1949.

This 313 is the rusticated twin of my first ever Peterson, which I bought around 1979, and at the price I paid it is a good catch indeed. It is in remarkably good condition for its age with very little wear on either the bowl or the stem. It isn't going to need a lot of cleaning up before use. Isopropyl alcohol on bristle pipe cleaners through the stem and shank to sanitise it then a little polish on both the stem and the nickel band and the job is a good one.

Half and hour later and the new pipe is loaded with Hal o'the Wynd and smoking beautifully.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Rehydrating Snuff

I recently decided to revisit the various coarse, dark, moist snuffs produced by Samuel Gawith. I bought a selection of them in the new 10g plastic dispensers (tap boxes). The size seems useful as a sample with my aim being to choose one or two for buying in bulk, either 250g or 500g drums. Unfortunately those dispensers are far from airtight and the snuff in a number of them was already too dry for use. This did sometimes happen with the old tins, but not quite so often.

However, rather than throw them away I decided to use them for rehydration experiments. One method in particular has worked very well, though it should be noted that the snuffs weren't totally dry but just about getting to that stage. Some were close to that "shotgun pellet" condition which has been noted by others.

I transferred the snuff to an empty 25g Toque tin and then lightly sprayed a mist of water on top of the snuff
using an old glass hay fever nasal spray bottle. By removing the thin plastic tube that goes down to the bottom of the bottle, which normally enables it to be used upright, you can use it upside down. The tube just pulls out. The bottle is like the one shown below, but in glass.

With the lid of the tin back on I let it sit for a hour or so and then gave it a good shake. The snuff was pretty well back to what it should have been. Soft and fluffy and very tasty. I did this with London Brown, Black Rappee, Scotch Black, Scotch, Cob Dark and Princes Dark, all with excellent results. Much faster than any other method I have tried and it gives even results as the water goes onto the snuff as a mist.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

About Snuff

Snuff is, of course, nothing more than tobacco, ground or milled to a powder of varying coarseness from very fine to really quite coarse, and taken nasally. Once the most popular way of enjoying tobacco, snuff had been in a long slow decline for 150 years until just recently. The habit seems to be undergoing a renaissance now that smoking is becoming so publicly restricted not to mention socially unacceptable. Snuff has the advantage of not affecting others and also of being considerably less dangerous than smoking tobacco, as most of the toxins and carcinogens are only released when tobacco is burned. See the Toque Blog for more on the health aspects of snuff.

I have been snuffing on and off since the mid 70s, when I was living in Regensburg and was introduced to the marvellous snuffs from Gebr. Bernard. An earlier attempt at snuff when I was rather younger was less than successful!

Since the UK smoking ban came in I've been gradually reducing my other tobacco habits (pipes and roll ups) and increasing my snuff intake to the point where I now consider myself first and foremost a snuffer, though I still frequently enjoy a pipe or two. I feel much healthier for it too. Curiously I seem to have turned to snuff from the other routes to the nicotine fix at roughly the same age as my grandfather did. Didn't do him any harm either.

The last half-way decent tobacconist in Hull where one could buy snuff, both in tins and loose, has sadly closed so now I can only get my snuff fix online. At least there are some excellent online retailers out there. You can find links to some of those on the right of this page. There are also links to various other online snuff, pipe and pipe tobacco resources.

I seem to have become a moderately regular contributor to the Snuffhouse forum and through that site I met another local snuffer, John, aka Snuff Head. We meet up in the bar of the St Johns Hotel, Queens Road, Hull on Wednesday evenings and often on a Friday or Saturday as well, along with other local snuffers. A wonderful opportunity to try new snuffs and discuss them. Snuff Head has had some fun with a picture of the pub...

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

On the Classification of Snuff

In the past I tried, not particularly successfully, to devise a detailed method of categorising snuffs, in the interest of making things rather clearer for newcomers to the world of snuff, but as time passes I find that the traditional method of classifying snuff is almost certainly easier and clearer for everyone. An obvious case of there being no reason to reinvent the wheel!

Professor Phillips Griffiths presents on his web site a simple and straightforward system of categorising snuffs: "Snuffs vary from moist to dry, and from coarse to fine  (gros, demigros, and fin) and may be natural or perfumed or medicated." This suffices perfectly well for most purposes, indicating the broad characteristics of a snuff.

However, the traditional way of describing snuff as being fin, demigros or gros does have a drawback in that the French term gros implied dark, moist and coarse while fin suggested pale coloured, dry and finely ground. This usually works well enough for European snuffs but is not always suitable for describing other snuffs. Finely ground moist, dark snuffs and coarsely ground pale, dry snuffs are by no means unknown.

My suggestion would therefore be to avoid the use of the French terms and instead use appropriate English terms.


Dry - Medium - Moist


Fine - Medium - Coarse


Plain - Medicated - Scented


As appropriate
Flavour is the most awkward part of any sort of categorisation of a snuff. Snuffs can be flavoured in various different ways but essentially there are three different methods. In the most common method these days, the snuff is flavoured after grinding with suitable essences. In the now less common method the tobacco is flavoured before grinding, the rolls or twists of tobacco being steeped in an appropriately flavoured "sauce". Yet other snuffs gain their flavour not by sauces or essences but by the methods of fermentation and the blending of different tobaccos. The latter would be a plain snuff rather than a scented one.

Plain snuffs have no extra flavouring and come in various grinds and can be simple plain snuffs, like old fashioned rappees, plain SPs and American scotches or the results of blending and fermentation of different tobaccos, like some of Bernard's non-Schmalzler snuffs. Some plain snuffs can also be toasted or smoked. These are traditional in the western parts of the British Isles, in Ireland, western Scotland, Wales and the United States. They are fine, dry and usually pale in colour. They are known as Irish High Toasts or High Dry Toasts if oak is used in the process and American plain or strong scotches if hickory is used. It has been suggested that toasts are toasted before they are ground up and scotches are smoked after they are ground up.

Medicated snuffs seem to be traditionally English but are now produced elsewhere and are very popular. Menthol is the most common flavouring but camphor, eucalyptus and pine oil are also frequently used. Medicated snuffs can also be scented.

Scented snuffs are possibly the most popular internationally these days and a huge variety of floral scents, fruit flavours, herbs, spices, perfumes and essences is used in the manufacture of these snuffs. Some toasted snuffs can also be lightly scented as can many . Perhaps the most common scent used in the manufacture of snuff is bergamot, a citrus fruits from southern Italy, which provides the traditional flavouring in a scented SP.

Traditional Snuff Styles

It is worth mentioning various distinct national or regional snuff styles. These are readily defined as above but deserve a few notes.

Schmalzler is a traditional Bavarian style of snuff, usually made from Brazilian tobacco, which gets its flavour from the sauces used before grinding. They range from the relatively plain to the highly flavoured. Different degrees of fermentation give rise to the variety and depth of the flavours. Some are now mentholated.

Scotch is an American style of snuff, originally derived from the Irish and Scottish toasted snuffs but having a distinctive character of its own. Scotches are always very finely ground, and can be plain, strong or sweet. The strong scotches are the ones with the smoky flavouring. Sweet scotches often have fruit flavouring.

SP snuffs are traditionally English and now usually have some measure of citrus flavouring, usually but not exclusively of bergamot. PhilipS's comments are worth quoting on the subject of SPs:

"SP might cause a problem (for classification) because definitions vary. For many years SP was associated with the Sheffield mills of Westbrook and Sharrow. SP was thought of as a plain golden-brown medium snuff until Sharrow changed the name of Queens to Best SP. Thereafter SP (in my opinion) is associated either with a plain medium snuff (SP No. 1) or one using oil derived from the peel of Citrus Bergamia which is exclusive to Reggio-Calabria in southern Italy. The top note is lemon leaving a lingering scent similar to neroli. It blends very well with lavender which is also used in the these Sharrow blends. This could be called Piquant SP as opposed to just SP (Plain SP). (Samuel Gawith call these ‘Scented SP’ and ‘Plain SP’ respectively.) Interestingly in the past the dried peel was made into snuff boxes and the oil used to flavour gin as well as snuff and tea."

I would love to receive input from others on this subject.

My latest self-indulgence... A Patrick Collins Oak Triple Tech snuff box.

Snuff Storage

One of the questions most commonly asked by newcomers to the world of snuff is how best to store snuff. Here I shall be exploring the various options for both short and long term storage of snuff.

The Public Enemy Number 1 for snuff is air, as strange as that may sound. On exposure to the air fresh snuff rapidly dries out and loses much of its flavour, becoming stale and unpalatable in weeks if not days, depending on the climate. There are two solutions to this problem, the use of oils in place of water for moistening the snuff and effective storage. English snuffs are not allowed by law to use the former but in other countries various substances may be used. In Germany many snuffs are moistened with small amounts paraffin oil (in place of the lard that was once employed) and in India ghee (clarified butter) is often used. The result is that the snuff dries out far more slowly than if just water is used to moisten the snuff.

But here we need to examine the options for effective snuff storage rather than the use of other moistening agents and we are concerned with how things are now rather than how they may have been in the past.

Today snuff is usually retailed in either small tins, boxes, dispensers or tubes containing sufficient snuff for a few days or a week for the average user, or in large, airtight, plastic containers which may hold 250g or 500g (1/2 lb or 1 lb) of snuff. Ideally the small tins, boxes, dispensers or tubes would be sufficently airtight to keep the snuff fresh for a long time but sadly, with but a couple of exceptions, this is not the case. In such containers the snuff rapidly dries and loses flavour even to the point of becoming unpalatable. This was never a problem in the past, when most snuff users had ready access to a local shop which stocked a variety of snuffs but unfortunately for most of us this is no longer the case. Instead we end up buying online or by mail order, ordering enough to last for weeks or months and trying to ensure that we get our money's worth for the amount spent on postage. Conversely the large airtight drums or tubs can keep snuff fresh for years as long as they aren't opened too often.

So where does this leave us for storing our snuff? Small containers really need to be kept in something else that is airtight. Ziploc bags provide a short term solution and Tupperware boxes (or similar) can work well for even longer periods, but even then, metal tins, unless of aluminium, have a habit of rusting, spoiling the snuff inside and there will usually be some loss of moisture and flavour over time. Far better to decant the snuff from the retail packaging into something better. Better would be glass jars with airtight lids or even food jars suitably cleaned as long as they seal well enough. Softer plastics tend to retain flavours (and are not totally airtight - the air does slowly migrate through the plastic) so containers made of those are less good for the purpose. Hard plastics are much better, but glass is probably the best material for such storage.

But overall by far the best solution is to only buy the small tins or boxes in order to sample different snuffs in order to discover ones favourite snuffs which can then be bought in bulk from the manufacturer or retailer. Snuff likes to be in bulk! It keeps freshest like that. Ideally bulk containers would be of glass but these days they are of good quality plastics which are as good as airtight. However we have to remember than every time we open such a drum we let in air which is the one thing we need to minimise.

This is where the proper snuff box comes in and solves the problem for us. It is a simple matter to transfer snuff from the bulk container to the snuff box on a daily basis so that the bulk container stays closed and airtight for most of the time, preserving the bulk of the snuff in as good a condition as possible.

Ideally we don't really want to open those large drums even as often as once a day so an even better solution is to have an intermediate stage in the process. This involves the use of smaller airtight glass jars or aluminium tins or tubes holding 25g or 50g (1oz or 2oz) of snuff. These are filled from the bulk drum and in turn they are used to fill the snuff box. Simple! Toque 25g screw top aluminium tins and Fribourg & Treyer 25g or 50g aluminium tubes are perfect for this and indeed, they are what I use for the purpose.

Finally this brings us to the question of snuff boxes. While a snuff box for every day use is not going to be prefectly airtight we do at least want them to be reasonably snuff tight. Such boxes can be made of wood (hinged or sliding top), pewter, papier mache, silver or even more exotic materials. Pewter tends to be a little soft and pewter boxes seem prone to hinge damage, silver boxes are usually expensive and wooden ones can dry the snuff out fairly quickly. Historically papier mache boxes were viewed as being best suited for the purpose but they can no longer be found new and old ones often have damage of some sort. Personally I tend to use wooden boxes, either sliding top Patrick Collins boxes or French made hinged ones. They are not particularly expensive and do the job well enough. I am quite happy at that.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Samuel Gawith's Scotch Snuff

I am currently revisting many of the Samuel Gawith coarse, dark snuffs. It's been some time since I tried many of them and I am thinking about getting one of them in bulk. Of course this entailed getting 10g plastic dispensers of them from My Smoking Shop in Preston and to my disappointment I found all the 10g samples I bought to be too dry. These are meant to be moist snuffs! Clearly those 10g plastic boxes are far from adequate. Not only are they less than airtight but persuading coarse snuff to leave the dispensing hole is quite a challenge in itself. I solved the problem by rehdrating the the snuffs and transferring them to empty 10g aluminium Toque tins. These are much more airtight, having a screw thread, and there is no risk of the tin rusting due to contact with the moist snuff.

My original review for Scotch was:

Nearly black, moist and medium-coarse. Pure rich tobacco flavour. Very nice!

There isn't a lot to add to that. There is no added flavouring which suits me fine and if appropriately moist, this is an easy snuff to take and proves very satisfying. The curious thing about Scotch is that it is darker in colour than Scotch Black. I can't quite figure that one out but it in no way detracts from the quality of the snuff. Scotch must be a solid contender for a forthcoming bulk snuff purchase.

Why this blog?

After some consideration I decided to set up this blog as an adjunct to my existing Snuff and Pipes web site. That site is fine for organised pages, lists, reviews, information and links concerning Snuff, Pipes and Pipe Tobacco, but is less well suited for my random ramblings on those subjects. With luck this place will fill that role just fine. I should add that the snuff discussed here is the old fashioned powdered tobacco that one sniffs up the nose and there is nothing here about anything else that now goes by that name.

A couple of pictures just to add a note of interest...

My favourite silver snuff box, made by Edward Smith and hallmarked Birmingham, 1838.

My birth year Peterson pipe, a System Premier 313, hallmarked for Dublin, 1956.