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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Dipping into
the history of snuff tobacco

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
In the old days, there was one sin that no preacher ever mentioned, that of dipping snuff. If snuff was mentioned the elders would say, "He just quit preaching and went to meddling."

I won't say my grandparents dipped a lot of snuff but I will admit that snuff glasses were the only drinking glasses I ever saw in their cabinets.

I remember making wheels for my little wooden-block cars and trucks using snuff container lids. I was careful to punch the center hole right in the "R" of the American Tobacco Company logo or the wheel would wobble off-center.

Dipping into snuff history

Dipping into snuff history we find the tobacco goes back to the 1500s in Wales where coal miners could not strike a spark or flame because of explosive gases and dust in the mines. This prevented smoking so they ground tobacco fine for snuffing up their nose and coarse for dipping. The nose application kept the nose membranes wet cutting down on dust inhaled and odors.

Trademarks for commercial snuff date back to 1870 for Garrett's Snuff made in Philadelphia. Other early-day popular brands were Tops, Rooster, Railroad Mills and Square Snuff all made in Helmetta, N.J.

Ordinarily, snuff contains only caffeine as a pick-me-up, but at one time some snuff contained opium. All cultures use snuff and Chinese snuff bottles are highly collectible bringing big bucks for rare specimens.

Dipping snuff must have brought some degree of comfort thus coining the term, "I'm right up to snuff today," meaning all is well. A controversial film named "Snuff" opened in 1975 in which actresses were actually murdered during filming, or so went the propaganda. Of course this was not true but did swell the box office attendance.

Today, snuff brands include Skoal, Copenhagen and Kodiak with advertised ingredients of clove oil, glycerin, spearmint, menthol and camphor. Different grades and blends are printed on the little round cans carried in the back pockets of jeans.

Most people don't know about the raised dots on the bottom of Garrett's Snuff bottles. It was a mystery until explained by a man who as a little boy, was sent to the grocery store for snuff. If he brought home a bottle with less than four dots he had to go back to the store. The number of dots signify the strength of the product. Four dots is the strongest.

Grandma Trew never knew she broke me from dipping snuff when I was a little boy. I snuck her little can of snuff out of her apron pocket and tried it. The ordeal left me blinded and sick for hours and I have never tried it since.

An old cowboy friend who dips snuff and whose wife does not dip, explained how they compromised on his bad habit. He stated, "We made a deal when we married. Any time I got amorous or wanted a kiss I had to go brush my teeth first. This worked well when we were young. Now, when I get the urge, by the time I brush my teeth I usually forget my original plan of action."

Delbert Trew

"It's All Trew"
- January 31, 2005 column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.


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