Edited by Len Provisor on August 22, 2017, 1:14 pm
“We dry a writing with blotting paper or Clais sand out of a sandbox”
Amos Comenius Orbis Sensualium Pictus c1655
The little boxes with perforated tops show on these pages were once standard equipment for every writing desk, as much so as blotters are today. Made of a great variety of materials, and in many forms, they were meant to hold pounce or sand. Pounce (a corruption of pumice) is a powder of cuttlefish bone or the resin of sandarac tree ground very fine. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that the sandarac tree is sometimes known as the pounce tree. The pounce was spread over the paper if it was unsized to prevent the ink from spreading, or on the paper where it had been roughened by erasures for the same purpose or to prepare parchment to take writing. More loosely the term pounce referred to the fine black sand used for drying ink.
Although it would be reasonable to assume that blotting paper as an improvement over sand is a comparatively modern invention, this is not quite the case. Any unsized paper is blotting paper of a sort and certainly the history of paper itself is a long one. There are stray references throughout many centuries to blotting paper. The year 1465 is the date usually given for the earliest mention of blotting paper in the English language. In Horman’s Vulgaria of 1519 we find:
”Blottyng paper serveth to drye wette wryttynge, lest there be made blottis or blurris.” and in the Ars Scribendi of Jo. Amos Comenius’ Orbis Sensualium Pictus written around 1655 ”We dry a writing with blotting paper or a Calis sand out of a sandbox.”
On the other hand, probably the earliest English reference to sandboxes is a definition in the Abecedarium of Richard Huloet in 1572. Thus it seems even possible that blotting to dry ink may have antedated the use of sand. But blotting paper as we know it today was not used generally until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Pounce (or pouncet) boxes continued to be made and used throughout most of that century, this in spite of the fact that sanding must be rather an inconvenient process. An 1866 contributor to Notes and Queries mentions that the pounce box was superseded by blotting paper ”almost in the present generation” at least in England. In 1888 another contributor said he had himself seen sand used in Gray’s Inn in 1869. The American novelist Herman Melville said in Moby Dick (1851) ”Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. There is more sand there than you would use in twenty years as a substitute for blotting paper.”
Original article from Antiques Magazine 1947
Readers take note, pounce or sanding in the process of use does not absorb the ink like a sponge, rather the ink will congeal to the granules of sand or pounce. The sand or pounce is then either blown away or to the more frugal user, the sheet of paper is slightly curled and the ingredients are simply poured back into the top of the sander.
from my own collection
Wedgwood Basketweave sander c1890
Hand carved ivory Lotus Blossom sanders c1700s
© 2008 Len Provisor