Appalachia

Using Snuff Glasses

snuff glass sitting on wooden crate

“Do you remember the days when snuff came in a glass container? Those snuff glasses were welcomed into every home as people found ways to put them to use. They made wonderful milk and tea glasses. The were not exactly what one would use to serve the king or queen, but who cared? People back in the mountains never had to worry about royalty anyway!

Some people used them for jelly glasses, because they were the perfect size for that.

My grandfather, George A. Parker, found the most unusual use of all for those glasses. He used them for a filing system. A few years ago, I was going through his old papers and I found a snuff glass (with the label on it). Pieces of folded paper filled the glass to capacity. When I began unfolding the small pieces of paper, I discovered that they were property tax receipts. There was one for every year, from the time he married and began paying taxes on his property, until he deeded his property (when he was an old man) to his two sons. I couldn’t believe he had kept those for so many years. And such a place to file them!”

—Story from Estelle Parker Wall – “Reflections on Mountain Heritage”

“Snuff glasses became a common fixture in many households, even if the owner was not a user of the product they contained. Bruton, Buttercup, Tuberose, Dental Scotch were some of the many brand names. Snuff glasses were of clear glass, fluted on the inside for strength and appearance. The general dimensions were a two and three quarter inch diameter opening that tapered to a two and a quarter inch diameter base and having a height of four inches. A tin lid capped over the opening.

The snuff glass became a utilitarian drinking vessel and in many homes a standard item in a table setting. Snuff glasses could be found at spring sites and the glove box of automobiles.

They were put to secondary use before recycling became a buzzword. Jellies and jams were “put up” in snuff glasses. A layer of paraffin was poured on top of the contents before the original lid was put on.”

—Earl Cagle – “Reflections on Mountain Heritage”

—-

My cabinets have quite a few snuff glasses in them. We love to use them for drinking glasses and they seem especially handy to use in the bathroom for brushing teeth and taking vitamins. My collection came from various places over the years. A few from Granny, a few from Miss Cindy, and a few from various thrift stores, yardsales, and dump sites.

There are six of the glasses that are very special to me.

The acreage surrounding our house contains quite a few old dumps from past generations of my family.

Several years ago, we were digging at one of the dumps from the time of my great grandmother Carrie who we called Big Grandma.

I found six snuff glasses sitting side by side under a pile of leaves and other debris. None were broken and each still had its metal lid attached. Someone set them down in a box or paper bag and over the years the container rotted away leaving the jars sitting neatly side by side under the leaves waiting for me to find them.

Tipper

Come cook with me!

hand holding apple

MOUNTAIN FLAVORS – TRADITIONAL APPALACHIAN COOKING
Location: John C. Campbell Folk School – Brasstown, NC
Date: Sunday, August 23 – Saturday, August 29, 2020
Instructors: Carolyn Anderson, Tipper Pressley

Experience the traditional Appalachian method of cooking, putting up, and preserving the bounty from nature’s garden. Receive hands-on training to make and process a variety of jellies, jams, and pickles for winter eating. You’ll also learn the importance of dessert in Appalachian culture and discover how to easily make the fanciest of traditional cakes. Completing this week of cultural foods, a day of bread making will produce biscuits and cornbread. All levels welcome.

Along with all that goodness Carolyn and I have planned a couple of field trips to allow students to see how local folks produce food for their families. The Folk School offers scholarships you can go here to find out more about them. For the rest of the class details go here.

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Judy Delk
    March 14, 2020 at 8:13 am

    love all the postings I have 6 jelly jars with flat metal lids. Melt paraffin and pour over hot jelly to seal. also save and reuse paraffin. I have 2 sets of glasses that came from washing powders about45 years ago. One is pale blue and one is smoky gray. Both have 8 ounce and 4 ounce. My children don’t value things from the past like I do.

  • Reply
    Gigi
    March 12, 2020 at 2:59 pm

    I’m not sure if I have ever seen one or not. What about the little glasses we used to get in
    Quaker Oaks . I wish they still did that.

  • Reply
    Barbara Parker
    March 11, 2020 at 10:55 pm

    I’ve drank out of a snuff glass many times. My grandma used snuff. I also remember Crystal Oats and the saucers and other glassware they packed in with the oats. It was like getting a surprise every time you opened a box of oatmeal. Good memories from good ole days!

  • Reply
    Gina Smith
    March 11, 2020 at 10:19 pm

    Would have loved to see a picture of those 6 glasses you found!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 11, 2020 at 2:10 pm

    I grew up with snuff glasses. I’m not sure where they came from because no one in my immediate family dipped snuff. They probably came from my grand parents. My grandfather dipped but his wife, my grandmother, didn’t allow him to dip in the house. She thought it was a nasty habit. She was an ‘in charge’ kind of woman and what she said was how it went!
    Snuff wasn’t the only thing she would not allow in the house. Bad language was also not acceptable. I once saw her backhand my grandfather for saying the ‘S’ word.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    March 11, 2020 at 12:23 pm

    Tipper,
    Grandma Delia, Mama’s Mama sent me over to Bigfist’s Gulf Station one time to get her a Jar of Bruton Snuff. John and Mary Nelson had the Gulf Station and Mary ran the Post Office on the other end. Bigfist was a Veteran from WW1 and he drank a lot. Me and Harold pulled him off the Railroad tracks many times behind Jimmy and Birdie’s Calfe, where he had passed out. John or Bigfist was as nice as could be when he was Sober. (I guess he liked Johnny Cash’s Singing too.)

    We had several Snuff Glasses because of Grandma Delia and she stayed with us a lot, Mama being paralyzed in her left side from a Stroke when I was about a month old. Grandma had 16 kids in all. Her first Husband died before I was born, so she married Mama’s Dad, Hugh Passmore. I never knew Hugh either, just that he was a Railroad Man, Foreman from Asheville to Murphy.

    Mama and Daddy joined the Church at Topton Baptist years ago and Mama was the best Christian I’ve ever known. …Ken

  • Reply
    harry adams
    March 11, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    We never had snuff jars but we had the Welch”s jelly jars. To this day I would rather have a jelly jar to any of the fancy glasses that can be bought. The glass was so much thicker than today’s glasses so they can stand washing.

    also I am retired from the glass industry and the comment on recycling glass is correct. It not only reduces the material needs, the energy required to remelt is significantly less than from raw materials. Alas recycling efforts in most places don’t focus on glass. Unlike plastic, it can be recycled over and over.

  • Reply
    Gaye Blaine
    March 11, 2020 at 11:45 am

    My dad’s smokehouse was on the verge of caving in. Our son rescued several snuff glasses before they were broken and several glass jelly jars also. They proudly reside in his and his wife’s cabinet and are used. Son had no idea snuff came in glass jars. One grandmother dipped snuff and the other smoked cigarettes. He does neither nor do I. Fond memories of aunts sitting on a Sunday afternoon chatting, dipping and laughing and passing the spit cup around.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    March 11, 2020 at 11:36 am

    What a wonderful find! We have a lot of old bottles my husband found while excavating at old parts of our area. We love them all. I have one blue half gallon canning jar with the top that belonged to my husband’s grandmother and it is especially precious to me.

    I have never seen the snuff glasses–all I remember was the metal containers. A lot of older ladies dipped when I was a child. Some used a twig as a toothbrush to rub the snuff on their bottom gums I guess. I have heard some ghastly stories about toddlers getting a hold of the spit cans.

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    March 11, 2020 at 10:34 am

    I remember jelly jars used for drinking glasses, and some of them had cartoon characters on them. I remember glass dishes in boxes of oatmeal, and later plastic cups came in the boxes. I have one plastic from Mama’s that I kept. And you can’t forget the prizes in the Cracker Jack boxes. Mama and her sister got Shirley Temple bowls in boxes of Wheaties, and I have them both, so there is a bowl for each of my girls. Mama said she hated Wheaties but she wanted the bowl so badly, so she ate them. There used to be prizes in the cereal boxes when I was a child. I never heard of snuff glasses, though, so I learned something new. Goes to show you can teach an old teacher new tricks. It’s a shame we’ve turned into a throw-away society.

  • Reply
    Dee
    March 11, 2020 at 10:29 am

    My grandmothers dipped snuff and I remember those snuff glasses at their houses. I think people carried one in their cars too because they were great to use when you stopped to get a drink at a cold water spring coming out of a hill side. After my grandparents passed, my mother kept the old snuff glasses and even the little tin snuff round container can. I now am the caretaker of them and our sons have one too. They seem to be as important to our sons as they are to me. You know now when you go to the doctor seems the first thing they ask is did you ever smoke. There was a new doctor following my doctor through her first day last year when I went for my yearly. When I say no nor did my mother but my grandmother dipped snuff. This new doctor said, “what is that.” For a second, I thought how could she not know about snuff. I thought everybody knew of it even if it wasn’t used by a family member they should have read about it in history. Actually I think those snuff glasses are pretty and how special it was for you to find so many where a dear family member sat them many years ago for you to find.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    March 11, 2020 at 10:14 am

    My Dad and Paternal grandmother both dipped snuff so we always had plenty of the snuff glasses, in fact we still have some as keepsakes. In fact I was more than likely in school before I drank out of any other kind of glass.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    March 11, 2020 at 9:50 am

    Tipper–One use for the snuff glasses neither the article nor the comments to this point mention was using them to store seed for the next year’s garden. Interestingly, along with the lid keeping insects out of the seeds, a bit of the original contents (snuff) would be dusted across the seed to help prevent any insect damage.

    I guess those snuff glasses are the hillbilly equivalent, in a sense, of the ornate snuff boxes which were very much the “thing” among the top ranks of European society in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Those boxes are treasured collector’s items today, but for you I reckon the “find” of the six jars is an even bigger treasure.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Sharon Schuster
    March 11, 2020 at 9:49 am

    My grandmother used snuff glasses to cut her biscuit dough. They were the perfect size. She used them as jelly glasses and we daink many a glass of milk from them – just the right portion for a kid and easy to hold. I still have several in my cupboards. We had lots of them as my granddaddy chewed snuff.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    March 11, 2020 at 9:20 am

    I don’t remember anyone using snuff when I was growing up. Mom used jelly jars for drinking glasses and other uses after the jelly was gone. She kept buttons, marbles and safety pins in jelly jars. The jars were always placed on top of a cabinet or tall piece of furniture to keep the kids from getting a-hold of something to choke on or put their eyes out.
    Several years ago I threw an empty olive oil jar in the trash as my young grandson watched in horror. He took it out of the can and said, “Glass is a mineral and it is becoming so scarce that it may all be gone when I grow up. Can’t we recycle this or find something to use it for?” Since that day, I have saved every piece of glass when it becomes empty. Trouble is, none of the local recycling places will take it.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      March 11, 2020 at 7:29 pm

      Glass is made from sand, soda (as in Arm & Hammer), and limestone, three of the most common things on earth. We’ll probably never run out but the young man is right that it should be recycled. It takes much less energy to recycle glass than to produce from raw materials. The reason some recycling places won’t take glass is because it is so common there is no money to be made in.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    March 11, 2020 at 8:53 am

    I grew up drinking out of those old snuff glasses. One of my grandmothers loved snuff and kept the family supplied with drinking glasses. I don’t think I have any left. I wish I had been more careful with them.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 11, 2020 at 8:43 am

    I grew up drinking out of snuff glasses. Nobody in our house dipped lots of old grannys in the community did. Grammaw Breedlove dipped and would give them to us as she finished them off. Of course six kids could break a lot of glasses so at times we had to drink out of various other cans and jars. Mommy always poured boiling water over her dishes after she washed them which sometimes caused them to break. More than once I have picked up a glass and leaving the bottom where it sat.

  • Reply
    awgriff
    March 11, 2020 at 8:28 am

    Tipper, your find of 6 snuff glasses left by your family is a treasure.
    I don’t remember snuff coming in glasses although I had a Great Aunt Serry (Sarah) that chewed homemade burley twist and smoked a corn cob pipe. Killed her in her 80’s. I do remember the jelly jars that came with the pressed on lids and we used those for drinking glasses. There were many things you could get in washing powders,oats, etc. Even the cracker jack boxes had stuff in them for boys and girls, especially whistles and magnifying glasses.
    The only jars I know of now that will take a regular cap and ring for standard canning jars comes from Aldi groceries. They contain peaches or fruit cocktail.

  • Reply
    Darrell Keith Cook
    March 11, 2020 at 8:18 am

    My Grandmother loved Bruton snuff. I remember Grandmother using the cups for beverages and also for cutting biscuits. I enjoy your daily blogs. Thank-you.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    March 11, 2020 at 8:08 am

    They look like a handy size. I love you found a part of your family and now treasure what they threw away

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 11, 2020 at 8:02 am

    I do not recall ever seeing snuff glasses. I remember the little snuff cans, contemporary with the little tobacco sacks.

    There was a time when commerce packaged products in re-usable containers because reusing was a common practice. Maybe it is time that idea came back. I think I have posted about it before but I remember when detergent boxes had glasses, wash clothes, etc in them.

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