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What is SP?

PhilipSPhilipS Member
edited May 2012 in Types of Snuff
Despite its associations with cloth caps, clog n’ braces SP is one of the most enduring snuffs. However, definitions of SP seem to be getting broader. Wilsons list snuffs such as Princes, Brunswick and Morlaix on their website under the heading of SP varieties. These are not, in my opinion, SPs at all - or even varieties.

SP is the label for Spanish - here the haul of Havana snuff looted from the Spaniards by Admiral Rooke at Vigo Bay in 1702. This was the first silky-smooth commercially-made snuff introduced in large quantities to Britain. It was almost certainly unscented.

Some people have claimed SP stands for Sheffield Pride. While this is unconvincing it seems that the first SP manufactured in Britain bearing that name originated in Sheffield - possibly at the Sharrow Mill. Be that as it may SP, in my opinion, should have the following characteristics:

Colour - light or golden brown only
Mill - no coarser than demigros
Moisture - dry to medium dry
Flavour - the pungency derives from unscented tobacco. It may however be complemented by hints of the Citrus of Bergamia and lavender only.

Any other definitions?


  • Wilsons Morlaix is certainly close to an SP. Bergamot with a hint of rose from what I remember, finely ground, golden brown and medium dry.

    The definition of SP has become nearly as loose as IPA or Porter in the brewing world. At the end of the day I enjoy any snuff flavoured with bergamot and variations on the theme. Wilsons seem to do this very well, such as Morlaix, Strasbourg and Grand Cairo.
  • I thought I read Special Plain as opposed to Special Menthol/medicated once.
  • XanderXander Member
    edited August 2009 PM
    I think one of the Gawith websites defines it as "special plain" That doesn't make sense since they are not really plain. Also true that everything Wilson's lumps into their SP column on their website leaves me scratching my head.

    I don't know what to make of Strasbourg, I think its floral or perfumed.
    Grand Cairo seems very SP like, but sometimes its also labelled as "Red Rapee" (and Best Dark as "Black Rapee")

    I'll agree that Princes and Brunsick have no business being called SPs but after that the boundry becomes rather blurred
    WoS Morlaix could be, but certainly not the F&T Morlaix. I would also tend to think of both of thses as simply "scented" or "perfumed".

    If we inlcude Lavender scented snuffs as SPs, I think that widens the definitition rather than narrowing it. If lavender is SP, then would not WoS Lavender, or Toque Lavender be SPs? I would think Lavender would be "herbal scented" like thyme or rosemary.
    Its all very confusing really.
    Shall we agree on a list of which snuffs are clearly SPs and then go from there?
  • Ok I nominate WoS Best SP as the first member, would anyone care to second? Any opposed?
  • AbraxasAbraxas Member
    edited August 2009 PM
    The problem with the whole SP debate is that there is no published list of ingredients and we have no real certainty what the abbreviation means. Personally, I agree with the 'Spanish' concept. Hugh McCausland deeply researched the snuff world in his 1955 book 'Snuff and Snuff Boxes' and spoke to members of the trade now long since passed away: their belief, based on individual company traditions and old stock and order books was that SP simply meant 'Spanish'. I suspect that in origin it s simply a book keepers abbreviation. I think that 'Sheffield Pride' is a later thought, but really at this remove in time it doesn't stand for anything; it is now simply 'SP'.

    I never think of it as being a plain snuff, for me it is a snuff lightly scented with bergamot and citrus. For me a completely plain snuff is no more an SP than unscented Kendal Brown is.

    My classic list would be:

    Tom Buck
    WoS Best
    J and H Wilsons
    Toque Original

    The Toque and Best would share joint first place.
  • Got to weigh in here.

    Love the JH Wilsons and the New Toque Extra Strong.
    To me this is what an SP is.
  • @ Filek - looks like you're having a stab at what I started on a little while ago. I posted about here, and PhilipS gave a great reply, which I had intended to incorporate into that page of mine, but of course that whole thread went down the black hole the other week :(
    Good luck with it anyway!
  • "@ Filek - looks like you're having a stab at what I started on a little while ago. I posted about here, and PhilipS gave a great reply, which I had intended to incorporate into that page of mine, but of course that whole thread went down the black hole the other week :(
    Good luck with it anyway! "

    Any classification of snuff, I believe, requires two headings although one is perhaps possible.

    J&H Wilson, in their book ‘The Manufacture of Snuff’, list five categories under which every snuff will fall. These are:

    Medium or dry
    High Dried

    They list examples under each category. (I recall from the post that was lost that there was disagreement over whether Pine is classified as Medicated. In the book by J&H Wilson it is.) If you simply wish to list ‘classes’ of snuff under one heading then this will probably suffice and your task is done. If you require further classification to avoid listing the same snuff under more than one category (a snuff may be Medium AND Medicated) then read on.

    G Smith and Sons, in the very informative booklet that one could once obtain free from their shop, list just three categories. In their words these are:

    Dark, Moist, Coarse
    Light, dry and finely-ground

    I like Smith’s top-tier listing as it is an English interpretation of gros, demigros and fin, but further categorisation is required as the headings are too general. Further categorisation - and this is just my suggestion - grafts two of J& H Wilson’s primary categories with additional ones giving:

    SP Plain
    SP Piquant

    (SP might cause a problem because definitions vary. For many years SP was associated with the Sheffield mills of Westbrook and Sharrow. SP was thought of as a plain golden-brown medium snuff until Sharrow changed the name of Queens to Best SP. Thereafter SP (in my opinion) is associated either with a plain medium snuff (SP No. 1) or one using oil derived from the peel of Citrus Bergamia which is exclusive to Reggio-Calabria in southern Italy. The top note is lemon leaving a lingering scent similar to neroli. It blends very well with lavender which is also used in the these Sharrow blends. This could be called Piquant SP as opposed to just SP (Plain SP). (Samuel Gawith call these ‘Scented SP’ and ‘Plain SP’ respectively.) Interestingly in the past the dried peel was made into snuff boxes and the oil used to flavour gin as well as snuff and tea.)

    The complete classification is as follows. Links that do not reference any snuffs may be disabled.

    Dark, Moist, Coarse

    -- Plain
    -- Scented
    -- Fruit
    -- Fruit/Medicated
    -- Medicated
    -- Gourmand


    -- Plain
    -- Toasted
    -- SP Plain
    -- SP Piquant
    -- Scented
    -- Fruit
    -- Fruit/Medicated
    -- Medicated
    -- Gourmand

    Light, dry and finely-ground

    -- Plain
    -- Toasted
    -- Scented
    -- Fruit
    -- Fruit/Medicated
    -- Medicated
    -- Gourmand

    Hope this may be of assistance.
  • BTW - I saved the last post .... just in case.
  • As will I!

    Many thanks for that. Most informative and useful. I'll take a while to read and digest before further comment.
  • edited August 2009 PM
    An interesting proposition would be that Sheffield Pride was a commercial attempt to differentiate between those made in faraway Kendal.
    Obviously not, but the idea made me chuckle a bit.
  • If the label "SP" originated (perhaps) at the Sharrow mill, then perhaps SP stands for Sharrow Plain, as I have been informed that SM might stand for Sharrow Medicated (as in SM 500, SM Blue, etc).
  • PhilipSPhilipS Member
    edited August 2009 PM
    "If the label "SP" originated (perhaps) at the Sharrow mill, then perhaps SP stands for Sharrow Plain, as I have been informed that SM might stand for Sharrow Medicated (as in SM 500, SM Blue, etc). "

    Sound reasoning and S.M does indeed stand for 'Sharrow Medicated'.

    Up until about 25-30 years ago Wilsons of Sharrow manufactured a plain(ish) SP listed simply as S.P With the exception of Queens, Tom Buck, Royal George and Rose of Sharrow every item used to be distributed as S.X where S refers to Sharrow and X to the snuff. There was S.T (Tonquin) S.L (Lavender), S.C (Carnation), S.J (Jockey Club), S.W (Wallflower) S.M (Medicated) etc - so your reasoning is correct. However every snuff listed as S.X, with notable exception of S.P, is qualified by the full-name. If S.P was a proprietary snuff then it would have been qualified as 'Sharrow Plain' using the same example as all the others.

    Their friendly rivals at Westbrook (J&H Wilsons) produced S.P No.1, S.P No.2 and S.P No.3, but I haven’t seen the latter two snuffs for some time now. Fribourg & Treyer produced two SPs - S.P and S.P Special. The first was rather similar to J&H Wilsons S.P No.1 while the latter was rather like Best S.P of Wilsons (Sharrow).
  • Okay, I've done a lot of pondering on the ideas above. Broadly speaking I think the complete classification looks like a winner. I do have a couple of thoughts that muddy the waters a little though. First is the question of how to deal with the exceptions, and I can think of a few, though none of them are English snuffs. My original idea was to somehow come up with a system which includes all snuffs currently available. The Dholakia Black Snuff is very fine, but black, for instance, and Bernard's Feiner Offenbacher Cardinal is definitely coarse, but is neither black nor particularly moist. I realised there probably won't be a lot of exceptions overall, so it shouldn't be a real problem and neither need it prevent the use of the system.

    Perhaps perversely I feel inclined to revert to the French terms fin, demi-gros and gros, as 'Dark, Moist, Coarse' and 'Light, dry and finely-ground' seem a little lengthy as terms for frequent use. It's a simple matter to explain the terms on that page.

    I am also intrigued by the idea of "gourmand" snuffs. Which would those be? And then I wondered where KB would fit - gros, plain or gros scented for most them I suppose. And then there are question marks over US scotches (fin, plain or fin, toasted or fin, fruit I guess, though maybe there is scope for a "smoked" sub-category there) and German Schmalzlers (gros of course, plus plain, fruit, medicated or perhaps that gourmand classification?).

    As for the SPs, I'm firmly on the side of the term simply referring to Spanish. I never had the old Wilson's plain SP, which is a shame. I wonder how the SS and SP2 compare.

    Finally I suppose the next level down is the actually flavouring, which fruit, which scent and which type of medicated (including pine!).
  • The only snuff I could think of that would be difficult to classify was an Irish Toast by Grant’s which was coarse and no longer made. However, using the classic French terms for top-tier classification obviates the difficulty with colour and moisture.

    Gourmand is used in aroma classification. It refers to scents that have associations with foodstuffs. Chocolate or honey would be candidates.
  • Thanks for the gourmand clarification. I half guessed that might be it, but wasn't certain. A useful term which will catch a lot of snuffs which might otherwise be hard to place. Many thanks again.

    I think I have enough to reconstruct that page now and of course proper credit will be given.
  • I'm going to revive this thread because there is some top notch information here and thought others might appreciate it as I did.
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