I hate to say this John but I have absolutely no idea where the word Sniffer came from. I can only hazard a guess that someone either misread the original name or decided to change it.
My family have used these devices for sixty years or so and this means that they have been around for a very long time.
There was a resurgence of interest in Gold fossicking toward the end of the late fifties and the early sixties. It is probably that this resurgence was in the wake of the first mention of underwater dredging in California. I believe that a fellow called Ron Holdaway got the idea to make himself one of these dredges and went ahead and did so. He discussed it with a fellow called Jack Tall who in turn told his neighbour Charles Thomas (my Uncle) and they decided to go into partnership with a third person Jack White and build one as well.
Jack White was older and pretty much the brains behind where gold lay close to Dunedin. His father had been manager of the Sandhills Gold Dredge at Skippers and his mother was an Aspinal of Aspinals Gold claim in the Skippers - they used to get 2 ounces an hour average!
These people were the pioneers of gold dredging and underwater diving in New Zealand. A friend of mine plus Dad were quick to follow. All their gear was home made and so were the little hand suckers for under water. Ther correct name is SNIFTER - not sniffers.
This photograph is of one of the very first ever made and therefore it has to be a collectible relic of the first days of underwater gold fossicking at the beginning of the 1960s.
We used to haunt the second hand shops and Jack White was just retiring from owning a garage…every antique brass car pump that turned up was made into a Snifter. This one was put aside and got lost under all the bits and pieces and only turned up recently amongst my uncles belongings…he collapsed when gold mining in 1978.
The body is a vintage car pump - the handles were made from screw driver handles and the nozzle was brass pipe.