I was once lucky enough to visit Wilson’s Snuff Mill in Sheffield. Wilson’s is one of those astonishing survivals; a small business operating from the same premises for over 275 years (and what’s more still using steam power and a waterwheel). You can read as many classic Victorian novels and books on industrial history as you like, but nothing quite prepares you to actually experience the atmosphere of a working building like this.
What also took me by surprise was the product itself. I’ve never been a smoker, so was prepared to be offput. Snuff is made by curing the tobacco leaves, grinding them to a fine powder, and blending it with scents and flavourings. Needless to say in the grinding rooms the smell was both very strong and aromatic, and remarkably pleasant.
As we were being shown around I found some of the empty old tins the snuff was once sold in and they were kind enough to let me take a few away as souvenirs. These probably date from the sixties. A fairly no-nonsense company, this is perhaps reflected in the very utilitarian nature of the tin designs. No harking back to Georgian heritage here! Only the ‘Gold Label’ lid exhibits any attempt to promote it as something perhaps a little bit special. But then this was a product largely aimed as a very traditional adult market and didn’t need any clever graphic design to increase ‘brand awareness’. Mind you that didn’t stop the firm’s designer sneaking a little bit of Chinese looking script onto the ‘Sharrow Tonquin’ lid!
Today most snuff sales are probably online, and these old pocket tins have been replaced by rather dull screw top containers. I’m not sure I could ever bring myself to take it up as a habit (although medical evidence suggests it has few of the harmful effects of smoking) but every once in a while it’s nice just to open one of these old tins and smell the past…
More vintage and less vintage packaging on the site.