Snuff & snus

One might hear: ”It’s brilliant that there are so few people who smoke in Sweden”. Poppycock! Well, they don’t smoke cigarettes that much is true. But what about this small, humid and repellent bag they hide in their mouth? Very discreet indeed. Swedes are quite good at placing it under their upper lip in half a microsecond. At every bend in the road, you cross charming blond Scandinavian men, sporty, smiley but what is wrong with them and their brown snus? Cleft lips and rotten teeth soon.

And so I started to wonder when this curious habit, this one that still occasionally plunges the European Union into turmoil since snus is only allowed in Sweden and prohibited everywhere else in the Union. In 1995, Sweden joined the Union on condition that the country will be allowed to keep it’s powder tobacco. Snus is no joking matter.


Needless to say that I won’t be praising tobacco here. Let’s just see what the past can tell us. The pioneer explorers in the New World, the first of them being Colombus, discovered the Natives smoking and snuffing tobacco. But it was several decades before the success of tobacco was realised in the Old Continent.

In the 1560’s, the French Royal Family started to snuff: a powdered tobacco is inhaled through the nose. It was first a remedy against migraines prescribed by the then French Ambassador in Portugal, the so called Jean Nicot (1530 around-1600). Thus, Catherine de Medicis (1519-1589) became the first royal snuffer. The fashion was ready to spread all around Europe. In 1753, the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who lived in Uppsala, named two species of tobacco after the French man. The word “nicotine” was born.


Snuffing quickly became an aristocratic habit. Some of them loved it madly such as Queen Charlotte of England (1738-1820), wife of George III, who was nicknamed “Snuffy Charlotte”. A whole room of Windsor castle was dedicated to store her snuff stock. All the fancy and wealthy men and women of Europe were also carrying their own little box filled with tobacco. The favorite pastime of Adolf Frederick (1710-1771), king of Sweden, was to make snuffboxes. In the 18th century, it became the trendy accessory that you needed to possess to be in vogue. Snuffboxes were made of precious materials, such as enamel and gold. The count of Tessin, French Ambassador in Paris, who is already known to the regular readership of this blog, was quite often mentioning snuffboxes among his countless Parisian purchases. The man was a passionate art collector. In 1740, he wrote to a friend: « To tell you my extravagance would be endless : a snuffbox painted by Massé with the portait of the little Charlotte (his niece), another portrait by Oudry of the big Pärh (his dog), a painting by Boucher, another by Chardin… ».

7531Some artists were renowned for their refined snuffboxes. The Swedish artist Carl Gustav Klingstedt (1657-1734), who was working in Paris, was one of them. He was known by his contemporaries as the « Raphael of the snuffboxes». Which is something ! Here is another charming story from 1741 recalled by Tessin in a letter to his wife who was then residing in Sweden. His words illustrate perfectly that snuffboxes, sometimes more numerous to people than outfits, were proudly shown during receptions :

« Ah! my Dear Ulla! I must tell you about my adventure with Fru Blomfeldt. I was dining at her place the other day, and clever as a crook, I had a beautiful empty snuffbox with a miniature by Klingstedt. I presented it to Madame, and said to her that when we arrived at her place, there was no need to take tobacco, since we come to the source. Or deaf, or crazy, she took my words wrong (…). I was petrified when she pocketed my box with a string of never ending compliments; fortunately the Nuncio asked to see it and after he had examined the box, I took it and pocketed it myself in turn this time leaving her petrified at her loss. All this happened without elucidations, and the best part is that I have my snuffbox which was not intended for the use by her cute little nose”.

2786After his return to Sweden, Tessin and the Swedish Royal Family could count on the devotion of the new official representative of Sweden in France: Carl Fredrik Scheffer. Apart from his diplomatic mission, the envoy was made responsible for sending to Stockholm every single novelty, Paris being at that time considered as the world capital for fashion and taste. Scheffer was searching punctiliously, like a real investigator, accessories of all kinds. In 1748, he wrote from Paris to Tessin: “If I do say so myself we will not have seen in Sweden such a pleasant piece and so perfectly crafted as the snuffox that Your Excellence will receive by today’s post. There have only been a few like them produced so far but it so much win the vote of the court and the town… ».

The French Revolution almost put an end to this trend, snuffing being too much associated with aristocratic customs. Europeans began to smoke the cigar. But in Sweden, another way of snuffing was on is way to conquer the kingdom where the culture of tobacco was an important industry. The dry snuff was ousted by a humid snus no longer intended for the nose but for the mouth. This new style spread promptly and, in the 1820’s, was already well established in the country.


Around 200 hundred years later, the snus is still the best or more likely worst friend of many a swede’s gum.


All the pictures used in this article are to be found on the database. You can find a great amount of letters written by Tessin and Scheffer at the Manuscript Department.


The Sublime Porte

An exhilarating piece of music ( ) takes me back from the Baltic Sea to the shores of the Bosphorus.


Here I am, roaming on the bank of the fascinating strait, soothed by the blend of the song, a delightful mix of Ottoman tradition and Armenian and Sephardic Jewish music. Constantinople. The old Byzance. I cannot help but dream. But soon, an unknown voice rouses me from my woolgathering: “When I arrived at my half European, half Asiatic destination, I found myself in a new world”.

5545It is the 13th of July 1826. A gentleman, expressing himself in eloquent French, is now walking by my side as night is falling on the old town, Stambul. Carl Gustaf Löwenhielm, is his name, he was appointed residential minister of Sweden to Turkey and Consul General in the Levant two years ago. On our way to the Swedish embassy, where I am kindly invited to an unexpected dinner, the man tells me about his life. He is obviously pleased to meet someone familiar with Uppsala where he had studied for four years between 1803 and 1807, before beginning pursuing an education and career in the military. By the time we arrived in front of a lovely small pavilion, his residence, I already know a lot about him.


His first diplomatic mission is to conclude a trade agreement with the Turks to guarantee free passage for Swedish ships to and from the Black Sea and also to improve commercial relations. But the negotiations are proceeding slower than expected. He confides to me that he was quite close to Prince Oscar, son of the Swedish king Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, the French officer. I inquire about his family. He gazes at me bitterly. His marriage is turning out badly and will be dissolved soon. No children. His wife used to be the mistress of Oscar with whom she has a daughter. Moving on quickly to another subject, my eyes catch sight of a drawing’s portfolio hanging off on a lovely Gustavian sofa. Let’s talk about this pastime of his.

5623I am pleasantly surprised to learn that Carl Gustaf is an artist. An amateur, of course, predisposed to it because of its own personality and aptitudes and fostered by his aristocratic upbringing. Both painting and diplomacy required education and talent. My host seems to dispose of them both.

The 36 year old man is taking advantage of his position as an ambassador to the Sublime Porte to travel throughout the Ottoman Empire. It is quite clear that Carl Gustaf has an eye to depict the landscape, countryside or townscape, and to transpose it with various colours and atmospheres.


We spend quite a long time looking at his creations, mainly water-colours. 
He likes representing the shores of the Bosphores and the town’s surroundings, while also embarking on artistic expeditions outside Constantinople.


Carl Gustaf is particularly interested in topographical drawings and is sensitive to classical antiquity. While highlighting the landscape, his paintings are a snapshot of the tranquil reality, where the sun is always shining. He captures the picturesque. 

The romantic interest in the “mysterious East”, this western fascination for the Orient, swamps me. When I decide to stay at the embassy to spend some more time in Constantinople, captivated by its splendor and mysteries, I come upon Carl Gustaf´s diary, piling up his impressions. I cannot resist glancing at it furtively. It’s mainly written in French.

April 17th, 1826: “take a walk and draw all day long. A splendid weather, mild and calm”. May 19th, 1826 : “writing, reading, drawing and taking a walk as usual…”


For a deeper glimpse into Turkey as it was in the 1820´s, you should come to the Department of Maps and Pictures where around 250 paintings by Carl Gustaf Löwenhielm are kept. The pictures used in this article are to be found in our database and his diary is also preserved at the Manuscript Department.

Weather considerations

Sweden was notorious for its weather even in centuries gone by. Many foreign travellers notably wrote about the rigour of the winter. However, the Swedes seem to find some charm in this severe climate. In November 1741, the count of Tessin, then ambassador in Paris, wrote from the French capital to his wife in Sweden: “It is warm as May: an unfazed sky, a high sun, dry weather (…). I guess that it is not the same in Sweden, but fortunately you are in a place where we can live without a good weather”. Fifteen days later, the coldness finally arrived in Paris: “It is currently very cold with a dreadful fog that makes me miss our Swedish white winter”.

Umbrella style, two illustrations from our database by Axel Gustaf von Arbin (1784-1856) and Carl Jacob Mörk (1780-1828):

This same year 1741, an astronomical observatory is built in Uppsala under the supervision of one of the nowadays most renowned inhabitant of the town, in order to realise his best research. Indeed, if there is at least one native from Uppsala that everybody is familiar with, he is it. That is except for Americans; that isn’t to say they aren’t knowledgeable, but as a matter of fact they are less familiar with this figure for a reason to be revealed later on.

The man in question was born in Uppsala in 1701 from a learned family of astronomers and mathematicians. His father and grandfathers were well known scientists. In 1730, at the age of 29, he was appointed to the professorial chair of astronomy at Uppsala University and thereafter embarks on a tour to Germany, France and Italy where he met and worked with the most famous astronomers around Europe.

In 1736, he takes part in an expedition with the French Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis (1698-1759) to Lapland financed by the French Science Academy. The goal was to test Isaac Newton´s theory that the earth was not entirely round, and that it was flat at the poles. Meanwhile, another team was investigating this theory in Peru. It turned out that Newton was right. Some of our Uppsala’s savant letters as well as Maupertuis’ are sheltered here at the Cultural Heritage Group.

450px-Anders-Celsius-HeadHowever, our man is most of all celebrated for his contribution to meteorology. Have you guessed who he is yet?

In those days’ geographical measurements and meteorological observations were included in the work of an astronomy professor. To be more specific, he is renowned for his temperature scale which is used throughout the world.
 Who is the one who did not imprecate or thank warmly, at least once, if not thousands of time, Celsius and his degrees? “It is just 2° Celsius today, distressingly cold” or “forecast for tomorrow: 25° Celsius. Lovely!” In fact, his name is used all the time without even realising it.

Anders Celsius did not invent the thermometer which was already widely used by the 18th century with various temperature scales, including one still used to this day in the US – which explains why he is lesser known in the United States – the scale developed by the German Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736).

At the manuscript department, you can find two fascinating meteorological diaries written by Celsius and his professor Eric Burman (1692-1729), whose was himself a student of Nils Celsius, Ander’s father, written between 1722 and 1731. The date, hour, barometer temperatures, wind and sky conditions are all meticulously reported in these diaries. This is really worth seeing!

Celsius died of tuberculosis in Uppsala in 1744. His world famous thermometer was adopted all around the world. However, the centigrade scale was different from the one we used nowadays with 0 for the boiling point of water and 100 for the freezing point. The scale originally was actually reversed with 0 degrees as the freezing point of water just right after his death. It has been claimed that it was Linnaeus who lay behind this reform.

To conclude these weather considerations, here is an extract of a letter that you can find at the manuscript department, written in May 1784 by the count of Creutz and addressed to the king Gustav III who was travelling in Italy at that time. Carl Gustav Creutz, who used to live more than fifteen years in France as an ambassador, was now back in Sweden:

“Right now we have the most beautiful weather and the mildest temperatures; nature seems to want to indemnify us from her harshness. However, I do not hate our winters; the body feels more strength, the soul more energy, the spirit is freer, the ideas are more clear and cheerful. And well, of all the climates I know, it is the one from Sweden which I prefer most of all. If the society was as sophisticated, the arts and letters as cultivate, the taste as uncluttered as in France, I think we would be happier in Sweden than anywhere else”.