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textTobacco Box
English, 17th–18th century
Tortoiseshell with silver mounts
H. 1 3/8", W. 3 1/2", D. 3"
Courtesy of S. Scott Powers Antiques

For many years, collectors of snuff tobacco boxes/rasps and collectors of nutmeg boxes/graters have debated over the intended use of a small, late-17th-century English silver cylindrical tube, typically measuring 2 7/8" in length and 3/4" in diameter and containing a smaller perforated tube. Snuff tobacco collectors maintain that form follows function, and these objects should therefore be defined as tobacco rasps; nutmeg collectors claim that the objects should be called “nutmeg graters” since most published accounts refer to them as such. Historically, nutmeg boxes/graters are designed to contain a whole nutmeg within the box. In this instance, however, a small roll of twisted tobacco called a carotte would perform as intended, housing fresh tobacco for the day and rasping it into snuff as needed.

textThis rare English tobacco box, purchased by Steve Powers of S. Scott Powers Antiques, has added strength to the snuff tobacco box/rasp collectors’ side of the debate. textThe box contains silver mounts with beautiful and intriguing etchings. The hinge contains an angel issuing a crown, a symbol of a Jacobite sympathizer, while the collar contains illustrations of pipes, a claret jug, a goblet, a repeating motif of tobacco leaves, and most importantly, etchings of the disputed silver cylindrical objects. Mr. Powers contends that these are the only known period illustrations of this form of rasp. Given the important information provided by these illustrations, one cannot help but side with the claim that these objects are, in fact, tobacco rasps.

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