Snuff Box

Research & Collections
 

"Her snuff-box had a magical influence"

Snuff Box
Charles A. Burnett, Georgetown (1769-1849)
Silver, ca. 1800
NT85.2.45

Margaret Bayard Smith, close friend the Madisons, once said of Dolley that “Her snuff-box had a magic influence, and seemed as perfect a security from hostility, as a participation of bread and salt is among many savage tribes. For who could partake of its contents, offered in a manner so gracious, and retain a feeling inimical to its owner?”

This rectangular George III sterling silver snuff box with curved sides is typical of the small, elaborate boxes used throughout the period. Dolley’s features a bright-cut engraving inscribed with her initials. The interior includes the maker’s mark of Charles A. Burnett (1769-1849), a well-known silversmith who produced wares for the Madisons at the President’s House and the Seven Buildings, and completed commissions for many other prominent Washington families.

 

Tobacco Use in the Early Republic

In the early nineteenth century, many fashionable men and women, including Napoleon Bonaparte, Henry Clay, Queen Charlotte of England (wife of George III), and Dolley Madison dipped snuff. The nicotine stimulant made from ground tobacco leaves was typically stored in a small highly decorated box made of silver, tortoise shell, or other decorative material.