Early Kentucky tobacco item grinds out a high value

Published 8:51 pm Friday, April 12, 2019


Personal Effects

Question: Hello Jerry. Here’s the remarkable tobacco shredder we bought a few months ago at the Paris, Bourbon County Auction. The owner told me he purchased it years ago from an elderly Woodford County collector. Checking its tines, they were found to be magnetic early iron pins imbedded in a 2-inch thick wooden shaft. Carpentry features include mortise and tenon ends as well as several small dowels. A plunger was used to push rough cut tobacco down into the grinding box.  On the end opposite the hand crank there is a 1-inch hole for ground tobacco to exit and be collected.

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To be such an early (see picture of a later manufactured tobacco grinder) Kentucky piece, its construction was a remarkable feat to accomplish with early hand tools.

With the history of tobacco here in Kentucky, we consider it one of our most prized early farm tool antiques.

Answer: What a beautiful and early piece. I agree that it was once an important piece to someone in Kentucky. The history of snuff has a lengthy history that flows in and out of our state.

Snuff was a Native American invention and with the richness of the lands of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and later Tennessee and Kentucky. Fine crops of tobacco were grown and processed here then shipped to Great Britain. Of course, it was shipped back, as a finished product, with outrageous taxes on it. The taking of snuff dates back as early as the 17th century in Europe and in Scotland, and was quite popular. I like to think that it’s the Scottish lineages that kept snuff popular in Kentucky.

It was used by many folks, including the usual men and boys, but by many women too.

Snuff is tobacco leaves, after curing, that have been ground into a fine powder. The powder is then taken by a pinch, either from the back of the hand or a tiny amount held between the thumb and forefinger. It was quickly inhaled into the nasal cavity, giving the user a strong dose of nicotine and flavor.

If the snuff was plain it was called common and if it was flavored with items like wine, spices, honey, fruit and mint, it was deemed as fine snuff.

I’m not saying that your snuff grinder is going to date back to the Colonial times, but it is very

early. It could date as early as the 1840s or even earlier. It has a wonderful surface that could be an original surface. It’s hard to tell what wood it is. It looks like it might be partly oak, poplar and cherry. The age marks under the lid, the construction and the iron pins just further attest to its early age. Likely the

grinder was made by a local craftsman. Maybe for his own use or for a profitable side line. Why buy it at a store when you can make your own.

Needless to say, I found few references to early snuff grinders being sold. I think that with some

provenance, a nice surface and the general appeal in tobacco items, that at a good antiques show it would be priced at about $400. Now, this could change if you have someone who is passionate about tobacco items or collects early household wares and tools. Thanks for a great question.