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Wooden snuff box, France, 1801-1830

The lid of this snuff box shows three views of a phrenological skull. Followers of phrenology believed that the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. Each number on the skull relates to a character trait. For example, number 6 equals the ability to see colour and number 24, good-naturedness. There is a key on the base of the box. Although popular with the general public, phrenology remained controversial in medical circles. Snuff is powdered tobacco that is inhaled through the nose. The practice of ‘taking snuff’ became common in Europe in the 1600s and remained popular throughout much of the 1800s.

Object number:

A70549

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Glossary:

Glossary: snuff box

a small usually ornamental container for holding snuff Boxes, usually having a hinged lid and small enough to be carried in the pocket, used for holding snuff

Glossary: smoking

A practice where a substance, most commonly tobacco is burned and the smoke inhaled. It is currently practiced by over one billion people worldwide (2008)

Glossary: phrenology

The study of the bumps on the outside of the skull in order to determine a person's character. It was based on the mistaken theory that the skull becomes modified according to the size of different parts of the brain.