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 Hammarby book Collection

« Seul avec la nature et vous, je passe dans mes promenades champêtres des heures délicieuses (…). Continuez d’ouvrir et d’interpréter aux hommes le livre de la nature (…). Je vous lis, je vous étudie, je vous médite, je vous honore et vous aime de tout mon coeur ». Lettre de Jean-Jacques Rousseau à Carl von Linné datée du 21 septembre 1771.

Have you ever heard of Hammarby? This lovely estate, which is located around 10km outside the town, used to be the Linnaeus country house. Considering that we are in Uppsala, it would have been tough to ignore the Princeps botanicorum much longer. Personally, I’m not a very big fan of the figure, as I rather perceive him as an unlikeable man. That aside, his ghost, as one of the most famous student and professor of all time at Uppsala University, is ubiquitous.

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) bought the farm in 1758 to run away from the noisy Uppsala and breathe the fresh and bracing countryside air during summer time. It was initially a small one-floor house but he completed it with a new larger main building in 1762 and also – naturally – created a garden. You can see it in the below drawing from 1794 by a Swedish artist named Gustaf Johan Härstedt. I’ve found this illustration in our treasure box: the database.

Hammarby 1809As you might have already guessed, this guideline is more to talk about Hammarby than to draw an umpteenth history of the scientist’s life. Besides, this was not aimlessly chosen. It will take us to the Early printed books section where Ariane, a French librarian, is currently working on a very special collection…the Hammarby one!

Linnaeus was the owner of what was considered as one of the finest collection of natural history objects in Sweden. In April 1766 an important part of Uppsala was destroyed by a great fire and Linnaeus no longer dared to keep his private library and collection of plants in town, so he decided to move them to a single-room stone building on a hill in Hammarby. There, his trove would be far away from the threat of such a danger. This is the beginning of the twist and turns story of the collection named after the estate.

The author of the Systema Naturæ died in 1778 in Hammarby where he wished to be interred. However, he was buried few days after his death in the prestigious Uppsala Cathedral.

photoHis son inherited the collection and retained it until his own death five years later. Even if the library was sheltered from a blaze, the conservation conditions were nothing but bad in this small building called by Linnaeus “my palace in heaven”. But his paradise was damp and insects and mice inhabited the place. Sara Lisa, Linnaeus widow, remained at the property for many years with her two unmarried daughters. A year after her son passed away; she sold the collection to an English medical student named James Edward Smith who soon founded the Linnean Society of London.

The collection was enormous: 14 000 plants, more than 3000 insects and 1500 shells together with 3000 letters and 1600 books.

The here-above photo, from our database, was taken in Hammarby in 1864 by the Swedish artist Emma Schenson. She was also a painter and made a whole photographic series in memory of Linnaeus. This still life with souvenirs from the botanist is a lively and splendid composition. In the background, a chair with a walking stick, the master of the house might return at any time. Portraits of two of his daughters are visible on the wall but the main one is depicting Linnaeus and was painted by Johan Henrik Scheffel in 1755 – and it is still in Hammarby nowadays – It is placed around objects of the botanist’s daily life, such as his hat, teacup, teapot and tea caddy.

Besides, here I digress, but no one will be surprised, Linnaeus was interested in beverages that had become popular at that time in Sweden and more generally in Europe, and wrote several articles about it. Chocolate and tea were particularly fashionable but were highly controversial. He even managed to cultivate tea plants in his orangery in Uppsala for a while. However, he had more success with the coffee bush that he also considered to be wholesome. As a matter of fact, he was convinced that it helped to relieve struggle headache. Although coffee was very popular, many people did not agree with him that it was healthy. One meaningful example will be enough.

The king Gustav III viewed coffee consumption as a threat to the public health and was determined to prove its negative effects. It is said that he decided to carry out an experiment on two prisoners. Two twins had been tried for the crimes they had committed and condemned to death. Their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment on the condition that one of the twins drank three pots of coffee every day while the other drank the same amount of tea, and this for the rest of their lives, in order to see if the coffee affected their life expectancy. Unfortunately the king died before the final result of his experiment: the first twin died at the age of 83 and he was the one who drank tea! An exquisite tale, isn’t it?

But let’s start again where we stopped, with the collection adventure. After a stay of one hundred year in England, some books were returned to Sweden at the end of the XIX century because they did not align with the society’s goals.

It is the beginning of a new succession of travelling for this homeland return-part of the collection. It was first held at the library of the Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, institution created amongst others by Linnaeus. Then, it moved back to Hammarby before to be transferred in the late 1970s at Uppsala University Library. In 2007, the books were restored at the Preservation section thanks to financial grants.

If the whole was now restored and well-stored at the Cultural Heritage Group, it was time to make the books reachable for the public. This is when Ariane, an intern from Lyon, appears on the scene. With a special interest for XVI century botanic book, she was definitely the suitable person. And I’m not even mentioning (or do I?) her botanist partner. However, she explained to me that there are roughly 400 hundred volumes that deal mainly with medicine, most of the botanic ones still remaining in London. Besides, a number of these books had originally belonged to doctor Johan Moraeus, Linnaeus father-in-law. This actually makes the collection even more interesting because several of these books were probably already old-fashioned for Linnaeus and his contemporaries but they provide us lots of information about medicine a generation before.

There are also some theologies and poetry volumes and Ariane also came across two books belonging to Linnaeus daughter concerning home economics! Her current work consists of cataloguing in the database every single volume. The work is, at the time I’m writing this article, almost done. Thus, a little notice is accessible for each item informing about, for instance, the author, printer and owner(s) of the books as well as the binding type. The job is not always simple especially because a vast part of the collection is written in Latin. Fortunately, Ariane is sharing a room with Peter, I mean Petrus, a brilliant Latinist. You should always have a lost language speaking person at your side!

Nonetheless, her effort are worthwhile and every day there is a surprising discovery from funny drawings in passing by dry flowers probably keep by Linnaeus himself for his herbarium up to hand writings with his proper annotations that, for that matter, evolved significantly throughout decades and so symbolized perfectly the evolution of Linnaeus’ career.

P1100932It’s always stirring to have such a book in your hands as you can turn back the clock without the need of a time machine. A book published in 1602 is mentioning nose reconstructive surgery. At the end of the chapter, there is a delightful handwritten comment in Latin that we can translate to “who is the one want to buy a new nose for such a price?” I can assure you that such an unexpected witticism makes your day.

The spring is eventually coming, the snow is melting and the flowers are blooming. It is the perfect time to take a stroll in the countryside. You should assuredly have a stop-off at Hammarby mansion, which is still managed by Uppsala University and will reopen in May.
It is one of the best-preserved XVIII century manor-house in the kingdom. Moreover, lot of details in the arrangement of the interior, made by Linnaeus himself, have a close relationship with his work which makes the place fascinating. In his bedroom and study room, the walls are papered with plates from two works on flowers…


If you want to visit Hammarby: