Tennessee Mountain Stories

Snuff Glasses – and other useful Re-Useables

There’s a popular movement in our world today to “reduce your carbon footprint” and “recycle today for a better tomorrow.”  Well let me tell you, on the mountain we are recycling experts and have been for generations.

I recently saw a picture that included a snuff glass – or at least it looked just like some of the snuff glasses I have in my cabinet and it got me to thinking about how disposable our world today really is.  

Dipping snuff is a pretty disgusting habit in my estimation but two generations ago many folks, even women, partook of it.  Snuff was packaged both in tins and in glass jars.  The jars were perfectly sized for drinking glasses when they were empty and every household kept, washed and reused them.  Even I grew up drinking out of snuff glasses – they were just a normal part of the kitchen.

We’ve talked here before about cotton feed-sacks and the many uses they have – volumes could be written about feed sacks.  But now I’m wondering if there have been other packaging that were readily reused. 

Of course heavy brown paper was used to wrap many packages and tied with course string both of which would be smoothed out or wound up and saved.  If you ever carried your groceries home in a poke you wouldn’t dare throw it out and a wooden crate intended for apples or oranges had a thousand uses. 

We never throw anything out because as soon as you trash it, you’re sure to need it.  The idea of ‘use it up, wear it out, make do or do without’ may not have originated on the Cumberland Plateau but we have certainly embraced the concept. 


Canning jars are almost like gold to families that garden and preserve.  So mayonnaise and syrup jars were carefully saved.  Even today if I have a chance to buy food in a reusable jar I can’t help but buy that brand.  Bob White syrup is the brand that lasted into my lifetime in canning jars.  It came in a jar that held three pints – so we always call those “syrup jars” and when reporting how many beans you managed to can you have to count pints, quarts and syrup jars.

Peanut Butter jars - the Jumbo jar is clear but I filled it with flour so you could see the logo.

Peanut Butter jars - the Jumbo jar is clear but I filled it with flour so you could see the logo.

Many historic companies understood our penchant for getting a little extra for your money.  The feedsacks that started out as plain fabric were dyed in pretty patterns when companies realized the fabric was being recycled as curtains or dresses.  It was a simply a marketing tactic.  Well other companies packaged in the box other premiums. 

For many, many years, oatmeal included a piece of cut glassware.  My grandmother had all kinds of these glasses which were unfortunately lost in a fire.  When I see those glasses on antique store shelves I wonder how valuable her collection might have been.  Dove washing powder had glasses – bigger boxes had stemware, medium sized had tumbler and the small boxes had juice glasses.

Grocery store owners were also paying attention and offered S&H Green Stamps, or their own private coupons, to redeem for dishes.  I wonder how many families grew up eating on grocery-store tableware?  JFG and Arbuckle coffee encouraged drinking their brand with similar coupons that you could exchange for all kinds of merchandise.

It’s really funny to me that we live in this disposable world now – where it’s often cheaper to buy a new computer printer than to replace the ink.  Where replacing the battery on a household tool can be so difficult that you just throw it out despite the years of use it might still have.  Yet, we have these groups always talking about saving our resources.  Maybe we need to invite those groups up to the mountain to see how we’ve been living all along!

I’d love to hear from you folks about what items you may still be using that were originally meant for packaging or maybe were found in boxes of some other product?