Collection of tobacco boxes, fashionable among the gentry in 17th and 18th centuries, exhibited at Palazzo Falson

Fashion tends to reflect the lives of different social strata. Tobacco is normally nowadays smoked in pipes, cigars and cigarettes, but in days of yore it used to be ground up and kept in small boxes made of various types of material, which men and women would carry around with them and occasionally sniff the contents. A collection of these boxes is presently being exhibited at Palazzo Falson in Imdina.

Christopher Columbus had discovered tobacco in America in the 15th century, but it was not before another century that Jean Nicaut – who eventually lent his name to nicotine – presented ground tobacco to Queen Catherine de Medici. From then onward it was a case of no-holds-barred for the tobacco industry. Not before, however, ground tobacco had acquired a fashionable following among the rich, who used to mix it with spices like cinnamon and cloves and keep it in one of these boxes, occasionally taking a good sniff of the contents. Some 200 of these boxes, all having at one time or another been in use in Malta, are presently being exhibited at Palazzo Falson. The boxes come from private collections, some from the National Collection of Heritage Malta and others from the Cathedral Museum. The tobacco sniffing tradition started among the rich gentry in Malta in the 17th century, and later permeated through every strata of Society. The Exhibition has been put together by Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti.

Nowadays people wear jewellery and other accessories for decoration, but in the past these little boxes were also an object of fashion besides serving as containers for aromatic tobacco.

The oldest tobacco box in the Palazzo Falson exhibition goes back to the mid-18th century.


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