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Preview image of work. watercolor on mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, fruitwood,  Snuff Box 872

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Snuff Box

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Artist Unidentified


Snuff Box

Creation Date

ca. 1790


18th century


1 in. x 3 1/8 in. (2.5 cm. x 8 cm.)

Object Type


Creation Place

Europe, France

Medium and Support

watercolor on mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, fruitwood

Credit Line

Bequest of Miss Mary Sophia Walker


Public Domain

Accession Number


This snuff box commemorates British General Charles Cornwallis’s surrender to George Washington at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781, leading to peace negotiations between the British and colonists during the Revolutionary War. While its watercolor illustrates the colonists’ military victory, this box itself represents the growing popularity of snuff and other imported goods, such as mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell. Snuff, a finely ground tobacco, was first used by Indigenous people throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. After European nations invaded and colonized the New World, explorers took note of the practice and brought snuff to Europe, where it was a luxury among the wealthy. Small devices such as this box made the product readily accessible to the owner. By 1790, the trade in tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl were well established, making them available for crafting finely decorated objects.