Now this item – a spittoon or cuspidor, you may or not be aware of. Yet for decades it was a necessary item in all types of locations – in homes or businesses. They were used as a disposal location for tobacco-laced saliva. Yes, many men in the 1700s into the early 20th century, chewed tobacco. The person didn’t swallow the tobacco but rather spit the tobacco juice on the ground. By the mid-1800s and into the 20th century, to stop the practice of tobacco split on the floor or ground, special receptacles were designed to handle the tobacco spit. Many were made of brass or enamelware or porcelain. Of course, cleaning these out could be a nasty job to give to the lower-level employee of a business or a servant in the house. Spittoons were generously located in restaurants, in pharmacies, in offices, and near the entrances to popular businesses.

Wit the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1917 to 1919, it was felt the spit on sidewalks, ground and floors would spread the disease so the spittoons became very popular. The spittoon was found everywhere well into the 1930s.

By the early 1940s, smoking cigarettes and cigars was more acceptable and not as nasty as chewing tobacco. The age of spittoons was ending. Most of the metal spittoons were recycled during war-time scrap metal drives so the only collectible ones are of enamelware or porcelain.

Now to know if your family history had spittoons is to check old family photos, especially between 1890s and 1930. If the family owned a business such as a barbershop, store, restaurant, bank, saloon, recreational hall, etc., more than likely there was at least one spittoon present.

Photo: In 1920, eight barbers posed for this formal photo in Draper’s Barber Shop, in Martinsville, Virginia .

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Smoking and Your DNA

Jamestown Colony Growing Tobacco

Home Remedies

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