Grimstone’s Eye Snuff
Snuff again. Produced at Grimstone’s Eye Snuff Manufactory at 39, Broad Street, Bloomsbury in London the snuff was heavily advertised and sold between the 1830s and 1860s. Perhaps fortunately, although it masqueraded under the title of snuff, it did not contain tobacco. Quite what was in it is by no means clear. One contemporary, Dr A L Wigan, claimed that it was nothing more than black pepper whilst the Lancet Analytical Sanitary Commission reckoned that the ingredients included orris root, savory, rosemary, lavender and prodigious quantities of salt. Grimstone claimed that it was made “of the most choice aromatic and odiferous herbs”.
As we have come to expect with exponents of the art of quackery, this eye-watering concoction came with astonishing claims as to its efficacy and glowing testimonials. Banner headlines proclaimed “Sight restored, nervous head-ache cured” and notified the reader of its royal patronage, “under the patronage of his late Majesty, her royal highness the Duchess of Kent and the Lords of the Treasury”. If it was good enough for the likes of them, then it would be good enough for ordinary Joes. It was efficacious “in removing disorders incident to the eyes and head” and “will prevent diseases of a scrofulous nature affecting the nerves of the head”.
As well as giving “a natural sweetness to the breath” it could “be taken as frequently as other snuffs with the most perfect safety and gratification to the consumer”. Users were advised, however, to be sure to wash their eyes every morning with warm milk and water “to remove whatever secretions may have been produced during the night”. The snuff was available in canisters of varying sizes with prices ranging from 1s 3d, 2s 4d and 4s 4d. Consumers were warned to guard against bogus canisters – only those bearing the signature of W Grimstone were the real deal.
Testimonials, of course, were glowing. Dr Andrews was quoted in one advert as claiming in 1831 that “the herbaceous quality of the snuff had such an effect on the stomach, as well as the nerves of the head, from the tenacious sympathy of the membrane of the nose with the nervous system, that Grimstone Eye Snuff, when taken frequently, must prevent any contagion entering the system and recommends its universal adoption”. Cheques in the post. Ordinary folk also swore to its efficacy. One, aged 94, was blind for six years but after using the snuff could see again and one Fothergill, a youngster at 71, had their long-standing inflammation which had caused blindness “quite cured”. An Elizabeth Robson of 19, Bell Street, Edgware Road, Marylebone even went into poetic raptures about it, “wise was thine head and great was thy design/ our precious sight from danger now set free”
But it was not all plain sailing for our Mr Grimstone and his problems centred around using the name snuff and being coy about what actually was in his powder. Although there was no tobacco in his product and so it would have been exempt from any taxes associated with snuff, the officials of the Stamp Office were on his case and made several attempts to prosecute him for selling an excisable product without paying tax. They also went after the retailers whom Grimstone supplied. This did the trick as Grimstone was besieged by angry shopkeepers demanding that he took back his stock and paid their fines. Grimstone was left insolvent with debts of around £6,000, although he was still flogging his powder until he died in 1861 aged 71.
Apart from clearing the nasal passages, it is hard to think it did much good.