The objects in this collection, though they are all containers for holding snuff, represent a set of needs and values distinct to their respective cultures in their form, material, and decoration. In China, snuff containers took the form of bottles, which could be easily stored in a sleeve; Europeans, by contrast, preferred pocket-sized boxes for holding a day’s worth of snuff, while the examples from East Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania have long straps and can be carried over the shoulder. Despite their distinguishing characteristics, these containers have all been classified as “personal artifacts,” and sub-categorized as “personal gear.” They are portable, and most of the time small, and can be held easily. But most of all they are “personal”; they would have been carried close to the body, held in the hand, and used again and again, invested with meaning from both their original owners and the donors who gave them to the museum.
Jessica Rymer is the Growdon Collections Intern for spring 2014. She is currently working towards a master’s in Historical Archaeology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where she uses clay tobacco pipes to study smoking behavior in the 17th and 18th centuries. Her thesis uses smoking behavior to explore the interactions between English landowners, enslaved Africans, and local Native Americans on Shelter Island, New York.