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Can You Guess the History Mystery Object?

Updated: May 27, 2020

Researched and written by Rachel Rabinowitz, Collections Manager and Visitor Services Coordinator, Claire Goode, Living History Specialist, and Teresa Marcus, Community Engagement Coordinator

Guess what the mysterious object from our collections is and learn the truth behind it. This is the first in a new series of short videos focusing on our historic collections.


Spoiler Alert! The Answer is Below

The video features what's called a pounce box (also known as a pounce pot). It works like a salt shaker. You'd pour pounce powder to either prepare paper before writing on it, or afterwards to help dry the wet ink. This would help stop the ink from soaking through the paper.

Pounce powder was made from different materials. One common substance was gum sandarac (resin from the the Tetraclunis articulate tree, which is similar to a Cyprus tree. The gum sandarac would be ground into a fine powder. Another substance used was pumice.

The type of material used to create pounce would determine if it was used before or after writing. Gum sandarac was used before writing. It helped prevent ink from seeping into the paper. Pumice would be used afterwards to blot the ink.

Our pounce box is wooden, but pounce boxes could be made from many different materials. This included metal and ceramic. Our example dates to the early 1800s, but pounce boxes were common as far back as the medieval period. Once we reopen, you'll be able to see it on display in the private room in the William Brown House.

For More Information

Learn more about pounce boxes at the resources below: