Friday, June 19, 2015

Napoleon, Snuff Salesman

In the wake of this week's bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo, I've been thinking a lot about Napoleon's long-term impact on the world -- Napoleonic code (still the basis for the legal system in France), the Sphinx's missing nose (shot off by Napoleon's invading soldiers), the westward expansion of the United States (thanks to the 1803 Louisiana Purchase), and the end of the Republic of Venice, just off the top of my head.

Knowing all these things, I was surprised to learn that, during his lifetime, wooden statues of Napoleon were used to sell snuff. The Emperor was known to be an aficionado, and so tobacconist shops would display these statues to advertise their wares, much like American tobacconists displayed wooden statues of Native Americans (commonly called "cigar store Indians").

This particular specimen is the last survivor of three brought to England from France in 1820. It was carved from a single piece of oak and spent more than a century standing outside various shops in York. The statue's 20th-century adventures put me in mind of the Stanley Cup. During WWII, some soldiers having a bit of fun took Napoleon to the River Ouse (he was rescued at Naburn Lock). He also spent a night in jail when the shopkeeper forgot to bring him in for the night.

He is now on loan to the Merchant Adventurer's Company, safe and dry inside their Hall, looking remarkably well-preserved for his age.


  1. The Napoleonic code is not only the base or the French civil law but of any continental system, I mean the Spanish Civil Code and many of the codes of South and Central America have their roots in the legislative work of Napoleon. And not only that, for instance the First Constitution that Spain had, with the recognition of human rights and some of the political achievements of the Enlightment Era was given by the Napoleonic forces that occupied the Peninsula.

  2. Napoleonic code is also the basis for the system of law in the State of Louisiana (other U.S. states base their legal system on English Common Law, for the most part). I did not mean to imply that France was the only place where Napoleonic code survives.