Snaffle - Snuffer box

Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.

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[snafle; snaffell; snaffel; snaffalle; snaffall; snafell]

A simple form of BRIDLE BIT having less restraining power than one provided with a curb. A snaffle has a joint in the middle and rings at each end to which the REINs and BRIDLE could be attached. In come cases side bars or cheeks are also fitted to prevent the rings getting into the horse's mouth [Lloyd (1895)]. Houghton wrote about the many varieties of snaffles made in Walsall 'such as the wheel and jointed-snaffle, the neck-snaffle, wreath-snaffle, prick-snaffle, &c. to the ends or sides whereof belong these fasions, viz. the Rippon, acorn, spoon, trumpet, bobbing and knobb'd end. They make likewise colt-snaffles and trenches, cabbinsons and musrolls; which are all commonly made too by different persons, tho' sometimes the same makes 'em all himself' [Houghton]. Some of these have been noted in the Dictionary Archive; one midland tradesman had a particularly good range [Inventories (1685)].

The snaffle was also known as a 'snaffle bit', though generally the bit and the snaffle were regarded as distinct, as in 'byttes and snaffells' [Inventories (1586)].

OED earliest date of use: 1533

Found described as BRASS, COARSE, fox hunting, full, knobbed, ORDINARY, Plumpton, rugly [Rugeley?], second sort
Found in units of DOZEN

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).
References: Lloyd (1895).


[snayl; snait; snaile]

A term with a variety of meanings, all but the first inspired by the shape of the common garden snail shell. The context should make clear the meaning in each case.

In the first instance, a poor quality of FLAX, similar to or identical with SNOUTING and TOW.

OED's earliest date of use in this sense: 1662 under Snouting

The term came to be a synonym of CHENILLE, and in this sense it was used to describe BUTTONs and various forms of trimming, possibly because the chenille was curled round into the shape of a snail shell.

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1741

A third meaning to the term was applied to various plants whose seed pods resembled a snail shell, including Phaseolus caracella and Medicago scutellata. In the promotional literature of one garden seedsman of London 'Snails, Caterpillars and Hedgehogs' were listed among annual GARDEN SEEDS, each being the familiar name of an ornamental plant whose respective seed heads resembled the creature [Tradecards (n.d.)].

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1688

Found described as BLACK, COLOURED, DRESSED Found describing BUTTON, TRIMMING Found in the term 'million and snail' describing BUTTONs, also abbreviated to 'snail' for the same purpose
Found in units of 12 POUND

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Newspapers, Rates, Tradecards.

Snail water

[snaile water]

A medicinal WATER incorporating snails. It was used to treat consumption and other diseases of the lungs. Nicholas Culpeper gave a recipe for making snail water using ordinary garden snails. According to him it was useful 'if you should happen to live where no better or readier Medicine can be gotten' [Recipes (Culpeper)]. For all his faint praise, snail water also found its way into some apothecarial shops and Martha Bradley also included a recipe for it. This included an initial distillation of FRENCH BRANDY with a variety of herbs, and some spices, before adding snails, HARTSHORN SHAVINGS earth worms and WOOD SORREL, then redistilling. Bradley called it 'a great Cordial' [Bradley (1756 facs.1996-8)].

OED earliest date of use: 1682

Sources: Inventories (early), Recipes.
References: Bradley (1756, facs. 1996-8).

Snap reel

Probably a REEL used to prepare the YARN for weaving since the only example in the Dictionary Archive appears shortly after 'A Warping Barr and Skarr' [Inventories (1715)]. It may have had some mechanism similar to the JERSEY REEL and CLOCK REEL.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Inventories (late).

Snow water

[snowe water]

WATER derived from melted snow. The OED's quotations show that it was used in personal toilet in the later Middle Ages, and it was thought to have some virtue in medicine. A seventeenth century APOTHECARY had some listed among his stock [Inventories (1625)] and Nicholas Culpeper included it in a list of natural WATERs in his edition of the London Dispensatory [Culpeper (1718)]. Although people in the early modern period would not have appreciated it, snow water would probably have been freer of contamination than most alternatives.

OED earliest date of use: c1175

Sources: Inventories (early).
References: Culpeper (1718).


[snushe; snuffe; snuf]

A preparation of powdered TOBACCO for inhaling through the nostrils. It became established in England in the reign of Charles II, when smoking a pipe was seen as inelegant but the taking of Snuff as acceptable even for ladies. Initially strands of spun tobacco were pressed together and wound round with string for sale to snuff takers, who grated it (hence 'Snuff Raspers' [Tradecards (1794)], or powdered it in a PESTLE and MORTER. In Britain by the mid-eighteenth century much was ground in the watermills of large wholesale tobacconists. This was sold to retailers, who added PERFUME or a flavoured sauce to make their product distinctive. This could be made from RAISIN STALKs, BITTER ALMOND, CREAM OF TARTAR, ANGELICA, HONEY, etc. Once the sauce had been sprinkled on the Snuff, it was left to absorb the flavour and then packed in CASKs, preferably ones that had formerly contained WINE VINEGAR. The SNUFF was re-sauced then compressed and fermented. Once it was cooled down, it could be ground and in this condition it would keep for a long time [Brongers (1964)].

The making and selling of snuff was strictly regulated, partly to ensure the revenue for the Crown through the Excise duty [Acts (1788)], and partly to reduce contamination with harmful adulterants. For example, an act of 1715 banned the use of OCHRE or UMBER or 'any other Kind of Colouring, except with Water tinged with the Colouring commonly called' VENETIAN RED. The addition of FUSTIC, YELLOW EBONY or TOUCHWOOD was also forbidden along with 'any other Sort of Wood, or any Dirt or Sand, or Dust sifted from Tobacco' [Acts (1715)].

Snuff taking was fashionable but unlike TOBACCO it never spawned the paraphanalia necessary for its use, except for the SNUFF BOX or SNUFF MILL.

Snuff were available in the shops in gret variety, many types apparently denoting a town or country of origin, like BARCELONA SNUFF, HAVANA SNUFF, PORTUGAL SNUFF, SCOTCH SNUFF and SPANISH SNUFF, though most of these during the eighteenth century came to denote a type rather than a place of origin. Others, like BERGAMOT SNUFF and ORANGERY SNUFF indicated a principal flavouring or perfume. Still others, like CEPHALIC SNUFF and HERB snuff suggest medicinal use, while GREEN SNUFF was presumably named for its colour, and RAPPEE SNUFF for its original mode of preparation. Apart from the varieties that were sufficiently popular to be found widely advertised or in the shops, there were many others, only mentioned occasionally, about which nothing is known. As Rolt remarked, 'the kinds of snuff, and their several names, are numerous, and daily invented, so that it would be difficult, not to say impossible, to give a detail of them [Rolt (1761)].

Snuff was also a term used in similar ways as SHRUFF. In the Dictionary Archive this has been noted as 'copper Snuf' [Inventories (1693)], and associated with CANDLE making [Inventories (1695)].

OED earliest date of use: 1683 as a product of tobacco; not found as Shruff properly

As SHRUFF: Found described as OLD Found made of COPPER
As a product of TOBACCO: Found described as BEST, BRAZIL, BRITISH, Cleriack, COMMON, ENGLISH, HERB, LONDON, ORINICCO, Port'more, SEVILLE, St Vincent, Strasbourg Found in units of BARREL, BLADDER, BOX, LB, OZ, POT, POUND, SERON
Found imported by LB, CASE, CASK, CHEST, HOGSHEAD none to contain less than 450 CWT, LB, POUND Found rated by the POUND

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Brongers (1964), Rolt (1761).

Snuff box

[snuffe boxes; snuffe box; snuff-boxes; snuff-box; snuff boxes; snuff and tobacco-boxes]

A BOX for holding SNUFF, it was usually small enough to fit into a pocket on a person's body. Snuff boxes were an important accessory to male dress and were therefore often elaborately made and decorated. For example, George Orton was offering paintings of all sorts, including 'the best Japann'd Snuff-Boxes &c, upon the shortest Warning' [Newspapers (1742)], while an act of 1739 referred to the 'Rims of Snuff Boxes, whereof Tops or Bottoms are made of Shell or Stone' [Acts (1739)]. As John Houghton commented 'the smoaking of tobacco has been the means of consuming a great many other things (as pipes, candles, paper, boxes, not only of small, but very great values) so snuff has done the like: for the boxes are innumerable, and the values of some extreamly high' [Houghton]. Consequently, a snuff box was seen as a suitable small gift in a variety of circumstances, for example [Diaries (Blundell)]. As a small, fashionable item with a high second-hand value, it was a prime target for pick pockets, for example [Diaries (Saussure)].

OED earliest date of use: 1687

Found in units of DOZEN

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Tradecards.

Snuff coloured

[snuff-coloured; snuff couler'd; snuff colourd'; snuff colour'd]

The colour of SNUFF; BROWN or brownish. However, a quotation in the OED likens it to the colour of CINNAMON, which is a yellowish brown.

OED earliest date of use: 1698 as Snuff colour under Snuff; 1788 under Snuff coloured


Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers.

Snuff dish


A dish to hold the snuff of a CANDLE or a LAMP, sometimes with a stand for the SNUFFER. Sometimes it was listed simply as DISH, though the context makes clear what was meant, as in 'Snuffers & Dish' [Inventories (1723)], or '2 candlesticks, dish and snuffers' [Inventories (1707)].

OED earliest date of use: 1560

Found described as NEW Found made of SILVER

Sources: Diaries, Inventories (late).

Snuff mill

The term had two distinct meanings though both were related to SNUFF. Snuff mill and snuff mull were both alternative names for a SNUFF BOX, the latter term probably being later, and of Scottish origin. Probably the '3 doz'n & 7 snuff mulls' valued in all at 9s [Inventories (1733)] were of this type, and less certainly a 'Snuff Mill' valued at 2s 6d [Inventories (1751)]. However, as the name suggests, a snuff mill was also a MILL or machine for grinding TOBACCO into SNUFF.

An interesting hand bill gives some indication of the possible styles of a snuff mill in the second sense. At the foot of the page, on the left is an image labelled 'Spanish snuff mill', consisting of an horse pulling a large round millstone set vertically in a trough (similar in appearance to a cider mill), while on the right is 'The Scotch Mill', which is nothing more than a shallow mortar with a long handled pestle [Tradecards (18c.)]. The Spanish mill would probably have been grinding leaf to make SPANISH SNUFF or RAPPEE SNUFF, while the Scotch mill was probably grinding TOBACC STALKS into SCOTCH SNUFF.

At the personal level, snuff was probably prepared from TOBACCO using 'Snuff Raspers' [Tradecards (1794)].

OED earliest date of use in the first sense: 1689;: in the second: 1758

Sources: Inventories (late), Tradecards.


[snuff'r; snufer]

An instrument used for trimming the WICK, or snuffing out, a CANDLE or LAMP etc. From its shape resembling a pair of SCISSORS, it appears quite often in the plural as in 'a pair Snuffers & Stand' [Inventories (1720)]. More complex forms were developed in the eighteenth century which caught the smouldering wick in a box-like appendage on the top and so reduced the risk of fire. One such device was patented in 1749 [Patents (1749)], and another 'that will not drop the wick' about thirty years later [Patents (1777)]. This type may have been what was called a BOX SNUFFER.

Like many other, apparently mundane household articles, snuffers suffered from the pressures of consumerism and the desire for ostentation. Samuel Pepys made this very clear in his account of a Mrs. Turner, whom he described as either 'a very prodigal woman, or richer than she would be thought, by her buying of the best things, and laying out much money in new-fashioned pewter; and, among other things, a new-fashioned case for a pair of snuffers, which is very pretty; but I could never have guessed what it was for, had I not seen the snuffers in it' [Diaries (Pepys)].

OED earliest date of use: 1465 under Snuffer

Found described as Best, COMMON, Lever, LONDON WORK, OLD, ORDINARY Found made of BRASS, IRON, SILVER, STEEL, TIN
Found in units of DOZEN, PAIR Found imported by DOZEN Found rated by the DOZEN

Sources: Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Rates, Tradecards.

Snuffer box

A device for snuffing a CANDLE, and not to be confused with a SNUFF BOX. One example in the Dictionary Archive was noted among the kitchen equipment as 'Candlesticks & Snuffer box' [Inventories (1712)]. It is possible that this name was given to the more complex SNUFFERs that were developed in the eighteenth century and that included a box-like piece on the top which retained the remains of the WICK when snuffing a CANDLE. An early one of this type of snuffer was patented in 1749 by a STEEL toymaker of LONDON [Patents (1749)], who described his invention as 'a new kind of steel candle snuffers and stand, which by means of secret openings artfully disposed, make them be far the most curious, useful and neat machine of the kind ... as they, by only opening them, cut off the snuff of the candle, and retain it so close that it can [not] set fire to anything' [Seymour Lindsay (1970)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1952 under Snuffer

Sources: Inventories (late).
References: Seymour Lindsay (1970).