Snuffboxes and Identity in Eighteenth-Century England by Anna Goldby

“Do you imagine, that through this tragical disguise, I have not found you out?” – Clarence Hervey in Belinda by Maria Edgeworth (23)

The 1760 snuffbox (Figure 1) contains nine images depicting scenes from Miquel de Cervantes’ book “Don Quixote” as well as a watch on its inside. It was created by George Michael Moser, a prominent person in the London art world and the first Keeper of the Royal Academy (Victoria and Albert Museum). The snuffbox is made of gold, enamel, and many jewels, and the watch component is intended to represent the sciences (Victoria and Albert Museum). By examining a critique of eighteenth-century England’s consumer behavior proffered by Neil McKendrick and two poignant moral tales of the time, a 1749 translation of Don Quixote by Charles Jarvis, Esq. and Maria Edgeworth’s 1801 Belinda, the snuffbox will be oriented spatially and temporally to the historical goings on in England during the 1700s to suggest that the snuffbox was made, used, and valued for its representation of Enlightenment ideals and for the user to present their identity in a particular fashion.

Moser snuffbox

(Figure 1)

Commercialism was on the rise in eighteenth-century England and people were intent on acquiring what they could to present themselves to the public in the best light, even if this resulted in a sort of false representation. In The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England, McKendrick explains that by the dawn of the nineteenth century, the “first of the world’s consumer societies” had emerged in England (13). He asserts that England’s then-characteristic close class stratification, shifting philosophical ideals, and changing economic intellect provided an atmosphere ripe for a “contagion of desire” (McKendrick 13, 28). “Spurred on by social emulation and class competition, men and women surrendered eagerly to the pursuit of novelty, the hypnotic effects of fashion, and the enticements of persuasive commercial propaganda” (McKendrick 11).

As consumption increased, people chose to purchase niceties that depicted themselves as they preferred to be seen – a means of challenging the social hierarchy and aligning with certain emerging philosophies. In Don Quixote (Figure 2), the title character is fixated on chivalric ideals and beseeches a knight to give him such a title “ … for the benefit of mankind” and for “ … the relief of the distressed, as is the duty of chivalry” (Cervantes 12). Don Quixote is understood and accepted as a madman and eventually becomes sane by renouncing such romantic notions. Events that unfold and supporting characters serve as symbols of a burgeoning educated lower class and the debate between faith-based virtue and pragmatic reasoning. The decadence of the snuffbox’s design along with its literary iconography aligns the maker, user, and collector with eighteenth-century Enlightenment ideas of science, skepticism, and criticism (Koscak).

Don Quixote cover

(Figure 2)

Not only would the snuffbox associate the owner with the Enlightenment movement, but in so doing it also could have subliminally served to mask the user’s actual class and intellect. In an environment of rampant consumerism and social emulation, “many objects, once the prized possessions of the rich, reached further than ever before down the social scale” (McKendrick 11). This situation enabled and encouraged people to present themselves in a manner unrestricted by their social position. Edgeworth illuminates this phenomenon in Belinda when Lady Delacour and the eponymous character are readying themselves for a masquerade.  “Why, my woman, Marriott, says, I ought to be tragedy; and, upon the notion that people always succeed best when they take characters diametrically opposite their own … ” (Edgeworth 19). Edgeworth uses Lady Delacour’s character to address false representations that were present in England in the 1700s. Lady Delacour has a confident public persona that hides her private concern about her health and makes overt displays of wealth that hide the actual dismal state of her finances. Therefore, it is not farfetched to think that the owner of the snuffbox was perhaps putting on airs of being well read, modern, and progressive.

Other eighteenth-century English snuffboxes provide similar themes of fashionable consciousness and representations of identity. Perhaps none better than the mid-eighteenth-century porcelain snuffbox created by an unknown artist that is in the shape of a girl’s head and painted to have fashion-forward pasty-white makeup, rosy cheeks, red lips, beauty marks, and a black mask (Figure 3). Another, an 1800 gold and lacquer snuffbox created by George Hall (Figure 4) depicts the Japanese god of abundance and is associated with the growing popularity of acquiring goods from abroad to represent an exotic flair.

Unknown snuffbox

(Figure 3)

Hall snuffbox

(Figure 4)

A fledgling consumer society, aping one’s social betters, and trying to present one’s self in the best way possible were ubiquitous themes in England during the Enlightenment period. These themes are ever present in the literature and material culture discussed here.


Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de. The life and exploits of the ingenious gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha. Trans. Charles Jarvis, Esq. London, 1766. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. University of California, Los Angeles. Web. 5 Mar. 2014. <>.

Edgeworth, Maria. Belinda, ed. Kathryn J. Kirkpatrick. Oxford University Press, 1994. Print.

Hall, George. 1800. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Museum No. LOAN:GILBERT.453-2008. Victoria and Albert Museum. Web. 5 Mar. 2014.

Koscak, Stephanie. “Playing at Patriotism: What then is this American, this new man?” University of California, Los Angeles. Los Angeles, CA. 4 Feb. 2014. Lecture.

McKendrick, John Brewer, and J. H. Plumb. The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England. London: Europa Publications Limited, 1982. Print.

Moser, George Michael. c. 1760. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Museum No. LOAN:GILBERT.390-2008. Victoria and Albert Museum. Web. 15 Jan. 2014.

Unknown. Snuffbox. c. 1760-1765. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Museum No. LOAN:GILBERT.497-2008. Victoria and Albert Museum. Web. 5 Mar. 2014.



Museum Name: Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections Place of Origin: England, Great Britain  Museum Number: MISC.15-1952 Date of Creation: 1700-1820 Materials and Techniques: [Doll] Wood with a gessoed head, neck and chest, painted, varnished, glass, canvas, cotten and mohair  [Dress] Linen

Museum Name:
Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections
Place of Origin: England, Great Britain
Museum Number: MISC.15-1952
Date of Creation: 1700-1820
Materials and Techniques:
[Doll] Wood with a gessoed head, neck and chest, painted, varnished, glass, canvas, cotten and mohair
[Dress] Linen

In a society where a woman’s world was constricted to the private sphere, fashion in eighteenth century England was one of the few ways in which women could express themselves (Koscak). During the same time period, according to the psychologist and psychoanalyst J.C. Flugel, “Man abandoned his claim to be considered beautiful” (Flugel, 111). Not only was fashion one of the few ways women could express themselves publicly, fashion itself was becoming more and more associated with women. This combination heightened the importance of fashion in women’s lives.

Place of origin: England, Great Britain (made) Date: 1740-1750 (made) Artist/Maker: Unknown (production) Materials and Techniques: Wood, with gesso, paint and varnish Credit Line: Given by R. M. Gregory Museum number: MISC.271-1981 Gallery location: Museum of Childhood, Creativity Gallery, case 10

Place of origin:
England, Great Britain (made)
1740-1750 (made)
Unknown (production)
Materials and Techniques:
Wood, with gesso, paint and varnish
Credit Line:
Given by R. M. Gregory
Museum number:
Gallery location:
Museum of Childhood, Creativity Gallery, case 10

As a result, women of all ages were frequently influenced by fashion. Even young girls were confronted with it when they played with toys such as the doll seen in Figure A, which was first made in 1770. The care put into this doll’s fashion is clear from the intricacy of the outfit. The matching blue ribbons, matching dress and chemise, curled hair, and blushing cheeks paint a picture of a woman’s outfit which would be closely observed by the young girl playing with the doll. The full dress on this doll is more similar to Image B than Image C because the outfits look more like adult clothing as opposed to the child’s dress in Image C. By playing with a doll that most likely resembled her mother’s clothes more than her own, the girl who originally played with this doll would be confronted with adult female fashion even while engaging in the childhood activity of playing with dolls. In an age when women could not vote or even listen to parliament, the act of playing with dolls would have been one of the few freeing experiences girls would have experienced (Koscak). They could use their imagination and creativity to invent whatever stories and circumstances they wished for their dolls. However, fashion’s influence during these experiences limited the already narrow freedom girls possessed. The prevailing fashion codes of the time placed pressure on women to look and act beautifully, which is exemplified by the fourth earl of Chesterfield when he wrote a letter explaining “the art of pleasing” and said, “Women have, in general, but one object, which is their beauty” (Stanhope).  Beauty, and thus exterior presentation and adornments, were associated with a woman’s ability to please. According to the fictional character Aunt Stanhope in the novel Belinda, “a young lady’s chief business is to please in society” (Edgeworth, 7). Fashion to women, then, wasn’t merely a way to express oneself but a way to fulfill one’s purpose in society. Women were expected to please, and pleasing people included being fashionable. Therefore the outfit worn by the doll in Figure A could have been a tool of emulation by which its owner could observe how she was supposed to behave. Due to the fact that the doll most likely resembled her mother’s clothing, it could have served as a reminder for her to dress and appear as her mother dressed and appeared. Even the style of dress seen in Figure B symbolized adult clothing more so than children’s clothing. Although it is fastened in the back in the style of most girl’s dresses, according to the Victoria and Albert Museum “’leading strings’ at the back of the dress indicate that she represents a teenage girl” (V&A). So, whether dolls represented teenage girls or adult women, the young girls who played with the dolls could have easily associated the fondness they had for their toys with the images of older women the dolls represented.

Place of origin: England, Great Britain (made) Date: ca. 1750 (made) Artist/Maker: Unknown (production) Materials and Techniques: Silk, brocaded Credit Line: Given by Messrs Harrods Ltd. Museum number: T.696&A-1913 Gallery location: In Storage

Place of origin:
England, Great Britain (made)
ca. 1750 (made)
Unknown (production)
Materials and Techniques:
Silk, brocaded
Credit Line:
Given by Messrs Harrods Ltd.
Museum number:
Gallery location:
In Storage

This doll would have served as much more than a simple toy for its owner. It would have simultaneously represented the woman which its owner would have been pressured to grow into, and would have signified the importance of fashion in women’s self worth.


Edgeworth, Maria. Belinda. Ed. Kathryn J. Kirkpatrick. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994. Print.

Flugel, J. C. “Sex Differences.” The Psychology of Clothes. London: Hogarth, 1950. N. pag. Print.

Koscak, Stephanie. “Coming Into Fashion.” UCLA, Los Angeles. 16 January 2014.

Stanhope, Philip Dormer. “Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield to Philip Stanhope.” Letter to Philip Stanhope. 27 Oct. 1747. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag.Electronic Enlightenment. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <;.

Figure URLs:

Figure A:

Figure B:

Figure C:

Fashion Doll with Accessories, 1755-1760- Pamela Holmes


Figure A
Image Title: Fashion Doll (Pandora) with Accessories
Museum: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Place of origin: England, Great Britain
Date: 1755-1760
Artist/Maker: Unknown
Museum number: T.90 to V-1980

A tirewoman in Paris send to London a doll completely accoutered to shew the new mode…At the sight of this pageant (O how wonderously pretty!) off goes the present head-dress of every lady in the realm, to make room for the exact similitude and pattern of the coiffure of the newly-arrived, pretty, little, dear, charming stranger from France.” (Governor William Livingston of New Jersey, “Homespun,”1791)

During the eighteenth century Pandoras or Fashion Dolls were sent by dressmakers all over Europe and America to exhibit the latest fashions and encourage women of society to purchase their goods. The Fashion Pandora shown above was produced in England between 1755-1760 with the aim of promoting this form of elaborate court dress. This blog post shall explore the material culture of this Pandora suggesting that she reflects a time in which consumer goods and fashion were becoming important ideals in society.

The Pandora reflects a period of seismic change in the patterns of consumer spending in England. Neil McKendrick argues that there was a “consumer revolution” as more people than “any previous society in human history [were] able to enjoy the pleasures of buying consumer goods.” The idea of being in ‘fashion’ perpetuated the commercialization of society as it provided an incentive to buy new goods in order to keep up with the times. The upper classes in particular sought more and more luxury goods in order to maintain an exclusivity that was seemingly being lessened by the greater access to consumer goods from all classes (McKendrick, 9-11). Reflecting McKendrick’s notion of the need for exclusivity, the Pandora is made from opulent fabrics such as silk, satin and lace. It also uses a myriad of techniques of production including braiding on the petticoat, and a quilting design on the under-petticoat (V&A). Sartorially, the level of craftsmanship and expensive nature of the fabric reveals the importance of luxury to the fashionable ladies of the eighteenth century.


Image Title: Doll’s Pocket
Museum: Victoria and Albert
Place of origin: 
London, England (made)

Date: 1690-1700 (made)

Artist/Maker: Unknown (production)
Museum number: T.846C-1974
Notes: Pandoras often demonstrated every layer of dress including undergarments. In this example, the Pandora has a pocket hidden under her petticoat. This reveals that there was some element of practicality to dress not just aesthetic value during this time. 

For women of society the Pandora doll symbolized the opportunity to make new purchases and gain the prestige and satisfaction of owning the latest form of dress. In Governor William Livingston of New Jersey’s discussion of the Homespun Movement in America (which aimed to promote American cloth) he describes the excitement that women felt in receiving these dolls in their homes, immediately mimicking the forms of fashion that she displayed (Governor Livingston, Homespun, 1791). Indeed, in a eulogy for the Duchess of Devonshire published in the Belle Assemblée one of the things that the author most admired most about her, and that gave her such an elated position in courtly society, was that she was “fashionable” and gave her name to many articles of clothing (Belle Assemblée, 123-4). Fashion was thus intimately connected with status, and the Pandora was considered as an important gateway to obtaining this prestige.

Demonstrating this material culture of the Fashion Doll, the satirical image shown in Figure B depicts a girl holding a doll dressed in similar attire to the women of the picture, which may be a Pandora. It could be suggested that all of the women shown in the image are mirroring the fashion of the little doll, particularly as the girl is set apart from the other women as if she and the doll are watching over them. The Pandoras thus symbolized more than just for a material representation of what clothes could be made for the women, but the status these clothes could potentially offer them.


Figure B
Title: Frailties of fashion
Museum: British Museum
Place of origin: London, England (published)
Date: 1793
Author: Print made by: Isaac CruikshankPublished by: S W Fores
Museum Number: 1868,0808.6292
Notes: Often Pandoras would be given to children to play with as toys after they had been viewed.

For the distributors of the dolls themselves, the Pandora represented the chance for greater business and personal prosperity by acquiring new orders. As such, the Pandora doll can be viewed as an early form of promotion or marketing. In an advertisement listed in a London newspaper in 1799 a wig-maker invited “the whole Fashionable World to an Exhibition of unexampled taste and excellence” where they could examine the wigs on “poupee [French for doll] of all complexions” (Morning Herald, February 12 1799) (Figure C). The dolls or mannequins in this example were a medium for allowing women to envisage what the wigs would look like in practice, and they seem to have encouraged people to come into the store. Not only does the Pandora demonstrate, therefore, the commercialization of sales but also the way in which strategic forms of promotion could encourage people to consider goods ‘fashionable’ and desirable.

Interestingly, the Pandora played a crucial role in spreading European ideals of fashion and consumerism to the colonies. Governor Livingston notes that old clothes were abandoned half worn once dolls from France and England arrived in America “upon the pain and penalty of being old fashioned” (Governor Livingston, “Homespun,” 1791). Clearly for the women of the colonies the Pandora represented the chance to obtain the status that came with being a ‘women of fashion’ even though they did not happen to live in Paris or London. By examining contemporary newspapers this desire to copy European ideals of style is evident. An advertisement in a Boston newspaper in 1766 noted that there was a “large London doll, drefs’d in the most elegant Manner” for sale (The Massachusetts Gazette, 2 October 1766) (Figure D). Another advertisement noted that a Mantua-Maker had recently received a doll from London that could be viewed for 5 shillings in the store and 7 shillings if it was delivered to them (New England Weekly Journal, 9 July 1733) (Figure E). The popularity of Pandoras in America not only shows that European tailors were able to obtain an international clientele, but also that the women in the colonies still ultimately wanted European forms of dress. Despite the aims of movements such as Homespun ‘women of fashion’ still coveted the power and class symbols that were intrinsic to European attire. This consumerist desire was satisfied by the travelling doll.

The Pandora therefore reflects an age in which there was a growing emphasis on consumer goods from a social and economic perspective. The “pretty, little, dear, charming stranger” (Governor Livingston, “Homespun”) brought more than simply potential patterns of dress to women. For the dedicated followers of fashion, she brought the chance to be at the forefront of style during a time when this was a very important ideal.


Figure C
Article Type: Classified ads.
Newspaper: Morning Herald 
Place of origin: (London, England)
Date: 2-12-1799
Issue: 5742 Page: Unknown


Figure D
Article Type: Advertisement
Paper: Boston News-Letter, published as the Massachusetts Gazette.
Date: 10-02-1766
Issue: 3287 Page: 4
Place of origin: Boston, Massachusetts


Figure E
Article Type: Advertisement
Paper: New-England Weekly Journal, published as New England Weekly Journal.
Date: 07-09-1733
Place of origin: Boston, Massachusetts
Issue: CCCXXIX Page: 2


Chapters in books

McKendrick, Neil. “The Commercial Revolution of Eighteenth-Century England.” In The Birth of Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England, 9-33. London: Europa, 1982.


Advertisement. [No Headline]. London Morning Herald, February 12, 1799. Accessed February 28,2014.

Advertisement. [No Headline]. New England Weekly Journal, September 7, 1733. Accessed February 28, 2014.

Advertisement. [No Headline]. The Massachusetts Gazette, February 2, 1766. Accessed February 28, 2014. 

Eulogy. “The Duchess of Devonshire.” Belle Assemblée, April, 1806.

Livingston, William. “From the American Museum. Homespun.” Massachusetts Spy, September 1 1791. Accessed February 28, 2014.


“Doll’s Pocket.” Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed February, 22 2014,

“Frailties of Fashion.” British Museum. Accessed February, 22, 2014,

“Fashion Doll with accessories.” Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed February, 22 2014,