1560-66: France: Nicot sends snuff to Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, to treat her son Francis II’s migraine headaches. Although Francis later dies in an unrelated accident with a snuff spoon, Catherine decrees tobacco be termed Herba Regina.

1600s: Rome: Pope Urban VIII (1623-44) threatens excommunication for those who take snuff in holy places. Declaration of Papal chambers as holy ground recanted.

1638: China: Use or distribution of tobacco declared a crime punishable by decapitation. Sudden increase in number of parents who drop a dime on newborn baby girls for possession of snuff. Sales of those cute little Chinese snuff bottles unaffected.

1660: England: The court of Charles II returns to London from exile in Paris, bringing the French court’s snuffing practice with them. Snuff becomes an aristocratic form of tobacco use, replacing the common practice of “huffing.”


1700s: Colonial Ports of Call: “All this while Admiral Hobson was in extreme danger for being clapt on board by a French Fireship, whereby his rigging was presently set on fire, he expected every moment to be burnt, but it very fortunately fell out that the French ship, which indeed was a Merchantman laden with snuff, and fitted up in haste for a Fireship, being blown up, the snuff, in some measure extinguished the fire, and preserved the English Man of War from being consumed.”


1800s: England: George III’s wife known as “Snuffy Charlotte.”

1800s: France: Napoleon said to have used 7 lb. of snuff per month.


1970s: America:
The legend of Snuff Videos, including pilfering of the word “snuff,” began in 1970, when Alan Shakleton (no relation to the Antarctic explorer) hacked up a Manson Family rip-off film called “Slaughter” to produce the highly acclaimed “Snuff in New York City,” with the tagline “Made in South America Where Life is Cheap.”

Feminist scholar Catharine McKinnon insists that snuff films exist, but wouldn’t put out when pressed for confirmation. Sources say she is a notorious prude.

Ted McIlvanna, warden of The Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality’s collection of 389,000 sex movies and videos, has seen only three on-camera deaths in 25 years of hard study. Two were accidents when not uncommon non-vanilla adventures went awry. In the last, a religious ritual from Morocco, a hunchbacked kid was torn apart by wild horses while men watched and masturbated.

1990s: New York City:
In the dimly lit, low ceilinged basement of a bar, a room with two pool tables. I’ve been winning at pool for hours, as usual, when suddenly my friends are gone. I look around, awkwardly, for something to do. In the far corner by the other table, a group of young men surrround an older, bearded man. He is a portly tough guy in a philosophy professor, mass murderer or biker kind of way, dressed all in black leather.

Gradually I make out what they’re doing. The biker has a long thin, finely carved saber that he is dipping into an elegant Chinese snuff bottle decorated in the Qing Dynasty style with two playful pandas. The boys surrounding him do huge hits of snuff. My curiosity peaked, I inch closer, but all men intent on their snuff, my presence goes unnoticed. I want in but not wanting to rip my cool, I slap four quarters on the edge of the pool table and in raspy voice say, “Can I get in on this game?”

The professor laughs full-bellied while doing a bump off his long sword without spilling a grain of what looks like primo snuff. “Empty table over there, little girl,” he says, his enclave chortling. I’ll show them, I think, retreating to the other table. I find my Swiss Army knife and do bumps of my own snuff off the end of the nail file.


Snuff Puppets: Because Under Everyone’s Skin is Bones
The story of desperate human actors, the novelty act in a giant puppets’ vaudeville show. A frightening world, where puppet and puppeteer roles reverse. Puppetry, physical theatre and live mamba music combine for an examination of human frailty that will both exhilarate and devastate its audience. Cast of five accompanied by the two-piece Snuff Puppet Band.

About the author:

Sarah M. Balcomb's next work of fiction will be a return to the courtroom thrillers for which she is best known.