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Sand Used Instead Of Blotting Paper



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In the days before blotting paper people sprinkled sand on documents to absorb wet ink. The sand box, usually made of tin, sometimes of wood, was a common desk article along with the wafer box and ink stand.

 

Blotting paper appeared in America during the 1840’s or 1850’s. But the use of sand continued, especially in Holland and Italy. The 1888 edition of Notes and Queries, located at the University of Virginia, contains some interesting stories about the continued use of sand to absorb ink.

 

T. Adolphus Trollope writes: “In Italy at the present day the use of blotting paper, save by English and Americans, is almost unknown. The public offices are liberally supplied with sand, with the result of rendering all of the desks and tables grimy to a very disagreeable degree.”

 

He goes on to say when opening a letter, “[N]ot only will a quantity of loose sand fall from the sheet, but the abundantly used ink will render up to the smirched fingers a considerable quantity of the gritty material.”

 

Moreover, this sand is not the kind one might think. Trollope continues: “The sand used is not fine sand such as one might find at the seashore, but a much coarser variety, sometimes red, but more generally blue, and is…singularly disagreeable when well-saturated with half-dried ink.”

 

A train traveler, R. H. Busk, says of his tour in North Germany: “My pocket-book was constantly incommoded, for instance, with the grit off the luggage schein, as it was handed to me at the various railway stations.” This anachronism is almost humorous—a guy complaining his wallet got dirty from the sand on his baggage check.

 

Another contributor, identified as W.C.B., writes: “Fine sand for drying writing-ink is still used, I believe, in the offices of some old-fashioned solicitors. I think I saw it in use in Gray’s Inn in 1869. There are a few of the old school left who prefer letter-paper, folded and sealed with a wafer, to the modern gummed envelope.”

 

This continued use of sand boxes into the 1860’s, well after the advent of blotting paper, by a British law firm offers modern pen users an insight into the mindset of early document writers. For the lawyer the importance of sand is a matter of decorum, like the black judicial robe or powdered wig. Sprinkling a page with sand is a ritual. Fine white sand drizzling off the paper when a letter is opened has a powerful impact on the reader.

 

Letter writers in the days before blotting paper lived in a world of dip pens, ink wells, candles, wafers, and sand. For many people today the only gestalt involved in writing a letter is scaring up a sheet of ink jet paper and a ballpoint pen. It must be a thrill to receive an elegantly written letter on cotton paper, sanded and sealed. Imagine trying to send a “sanded” letter today. The Postal Service would shut down the mail stream and call in Homeland Security, thinking it was an anthrax attack. Times have certainly changed.

 

Ashbridg

Carpe Stilo

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Thanks for that. Very interesting. I've seen people use sand in several movies. One with Marie Antoinette I think, or maybe some other Baroque era characters, and another was Ninja Turtles 3, Turtles in Time.

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Hi Ash,

 

The 'sand' was called 'ponce'. It was crushed up sand, salt or in some cases, cuttlefish-bones, which was used to blot ink because of its absorbent qualities. The ponce was stored in a 'ponce-pot' which was kept on the desk. It had a salt-shaker like appearance so that you could shake the ponce onto your writing, dry it, and then pour the used ponce back into the pot. I've never actually seen one in real life, though, although I think they're pretty nifty.

 

I thought ponce-pots had died out by the 19th century, though...?

http://www.throughouthistory.com/ - My Blog on History & Antiques

 

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The "sand" that was commonly used to dry ink (in absence of blotting paper) prior to the 20th century was, as I've understood, actually gum sandarac. Actual sand wouldn't do the job; the tiny grains of stone (limestone, quartz, basalt, etc. depending where the sand came from) that comprise sand aren't at all absorbent. If you see an old Robin Hood movie or similar costume drama and watch someone shaking what looks like sand from what looks like a fat salt shaker onto a freshly inked document, that's gum sandarac. And yes, it tended to pick up color (by absorbing ink), and was often collected and reused until it was too saturated with ink to do its job. I can certainly agree it would be most unpleasant stuff, if you found a desk covered with it.

 

If you do use "sand" on a letter, I'd certainly recommend brushing it all away before putting the letter into the envelope...

Does not always write loving messages.

Does not always foot up columns correctly.

Does not always sign big checks.

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For some reason, I always thought it was Gum Sandarac with Cuttlebone ground up. That's pounce. I've got a pouncebag (gum sandarac with cuttlebone in a piece of fabric bag..) I pounce the paper before I write. (usually post cards that have a shiny paper base) the sandarac helps the ink from feathering and helps it dry. You get a finer line with it.

 

I've never heard of using "sand" or salt or anything else like that.

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I've heard of sand being used, also dry bread crumbs.

 

-- Brian

fpn_1375035941__postcard_swap.png * * * "Don't neglect to write me several times from different places when you may."
-- John Purdue (1863)

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Sand, I've heard of. Salt, yes, crushed cuttlebones, yes...

 

...but breadcrumbs?

 

We're drying ink here, not making Weiner Schnitzels... :roflmho: ...whoever used breadcrumbs and thought they were a good idea? :ltcapd:

http://www.throughouthistory.com/ - My Blog on History & Antiques

 

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Sand, I've heard of. Salt, yes, crushed cuttlebones, yes...

 

...but breadcrumbs?

 

We're drying ink here, not making Weiner Schnitzels... :roflmho: ...whoever used breadcrumbs and thought they were a good idea? :ltcapd:

 

I'm assuming it was stale, some breads when stale may as well be made of stone.

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Bo Bo Olson

Basically Hollywood is wrong..the quill was trimmed except for a sand brushing tip.

A full feathered quill is too heavy, and offered too much surface for the normal heavy duty drafts that were normal in house and office.

 

Also, standing up at a writing desk was SOP, in one wanted the clerk working not sitting down. 12 hour work day.

 

Justice Frankfurter @1940's +, a US Supreme Court Justice, continued standing up to write even as Supreme Court Justice.

German vintage '50-70 semi-flex stubs and those in oblique give the real thing in On Demand line variation. Modern Oblique is a waste of money for a shadow of line variation. Being too lazy to Hunt for affordable vintage oblique pens, lets you 'hunt' for line variation instead of having it.

RIP...200's once great nib, now a double ball.:crybaby::wallbash:

 

The cheapest lessons are from those who learned expensive lessons. Ignorance is best for learning expensive lessons.

 

 

 

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I've often found ink stands with spaces for two wells - I always assumed it was for two different colors of ink (red and black). Now I'm wondering if one space was for the "sand/gum" shaker.

 

Does anyone know?

"I'm not superstitious -- I'm just a little stitious." Michael G. Scott

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I've often found ink stands with spaces for two wells - I always assumed it was for two different colors of ink (red and black). Now I'm wondering if one space was for the "sand/gum" shaker.

 

Does anyone know?

The sand/pounce pots generally look like a salt shaker with a concave top with big holes in it. This was so you could put the extra pounce back in the shaker.

 

Inkwell with pounce pot

Edited by jbb
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Bo Bo Olson

I've often found ink stands with spaces for two wells - I always assumed it was for two different colors of ink (red and black). Now I'm wondering if one space was for the "sand/gum" shaker.

 

Does anyone know?

 

 

Depends on when...and "all" sand shakers were shakers, you wouldn't want to pour a mound of sand on your letter. I have seen, bid on and lost, on ink well set, two ink wells and a sand shaker, or one shaker and one inkwell, a couple of times....pre 1840...1780's. I'm not an expert on them. But a sand shaker, with a perforated top, is what sand was kept in.

 

My replica 1894-5 Montgomery Ward Catalog offers no sand shakers...it does offer a double ink well with a sponge jar for stamps and envelops.

Or paper clips....or a place to hold extra dip pens...the pens was what nibs were called then. In the US...as it was said Blotter paper came in, and sand was passe`; not up to date...and back in that time, not up to date was shameful.....

 

In that many worked with accounting a black and a red ink was normal in a double set of ink wells. I've seen enough that were still slightly stained so.

 

The side opening inkwell sets some times, were for sharing, two desks, one inkwell set between them.

German vintage '50-70 semi-flex stubs and those in oblique give the real thing in On Demand line variation. Modern Oblique is a waste of money for a shadow of line variation. Being too lazy to Hunt for affordable vintage oblique pens, lets you 'hunt' for line variation instead of having it.

RIP...200's once great nib, now a double ball.:crybaby::wallbash:

 

The cheapest lessons are from those who learned expensive lessons. Ignorance is best for learning expensive lessons.

 

 

 

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The "sand" that was commonly used to dry ink (in absence of blotting paper) prior to the 20th century was, as I've understood, actually gum sandarac. Actual sand wouldn't do the job; the tiny grains of stone (limestone, quartz, basalt, etc. depending where the sand came from) that comprise sand aren't at all absorbent. If you see an old Robin Hood movie or similar costume drama and watch someone shaking what looks like sand from what looks like a fat salt shaker onto a freshly inked document, that's gum sandarac. And yes, it tended to pick up color (by absorbing ink), and was often collected and reused until it was too saturated with ink to do its job. I can certainly agree it would be most unpleasant stuff, if you found a desk covered with it.

 

If you do use "sand" on a letter, I'd certainly recommend brushing it all away before putting the letter into the envelope...

 

 

 

Gum sandarac was used to prepare the paper to write not to dry the ink as the gum could become wetted{ Reference Richard Huloet's Abecedarium (1552)} rather fine sand would wick the ink using capillary action.

 

 

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  • 1 month later...

I know very little about this subject, but I was just reading Pen, Ink and Evidence, by Joe Nickell, which seems very authoritative. I believe there is a confustion between two different things here. Sandarac was used to prepare unsized paper or parchment for writing,so the ink would not be absorbed too quickly. Calais and other types of beach sand were used to blot via capillary action. Many old documents show silica from the sand.

 

Now what I would like to know is where to find fine, clean beach sand, such as is used in hour glasses.

 

Steve

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I know very little about this subject, but I was just reading Pen, Ink and Evidence, by Joe Nickell, which seems very authoritative. I believe there is a confustion between two different things here. Sandarac was used to prepare unsized paper or parchment for writing,so the ink would not be absorbed too quickly. Calais and other types of beach sand were used to blot via capillary action. Many old documents show silica from the sand.

 

Now what I would like to know is where to find fine, clean beach sand, such as is used in hour glasses.

 

Steve

I love that book Pen, Ink and Evidence and recommend it to those interested in pen history. We've got lots lot fine white sand in our sand blaster. PM me if it's not readily available at your hardware store. I used it on letters that I wrote in dip pen for a while and it was fun... buy messy. :headsmack: I finally realized that my problem was using coated paper that left the ink sitting on top.

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Bo Bo Olson

"""Now what I would like to know is where to find fine, clean beach sand, such as is used in hour glasses."""

 

Up to a couple of months ago I'd recommended the White Beaches of Alabama.

I don't know what Miami is going to do now. Before late at night just before sun up, big dump trucks from Alabama use to deliver Miami's white beaches nightly.

 

The white beach of Miami was long ago, but was artificially maintained, for many decades.

German vintage '50-70 semi-flex stubs and those in oblique give the real thing in On Demand line variation. Modern Oblique is a waste of money for a shadow of line variation. Being too lazy to Hunt for affordable vintage oblique pens, lets you 'hunt' for line variation instead of having it.

RIP...200's once great nib, now a double ball.:crybaby::wallbash:

 

The cheapest lessons are from those who learned expensive lessons. Ignorance is best for learning expensive lessons.

 

 

 

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...The white beach of Miami was long ago, but was artificially maintained, for many decades.

From what I've read, the Miami Beach project (from the 1970's erosion?) has been completed for several years now. Reportedly Europe and Australia have hosted some of the larger beach nourishment projects throughout the world, too. The U.S. "Third Coast", aka the Great Lakes has seen a lot of serious erosion in recent years, although I'm not aware of nourishment projects, probably due to lack of funding. One stretch of formerly beautiful Lake Michigan beach that I enjoyed as a kid is now gone and is the shoreline road on the cliff is in danger of being washed away.

 

Okay, the thread can now be returned to it's regularly scheduled topic.

 

Bill

 

 

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I know very little about this subject, but I was just reading Pen, Ink and Evidence, by Joe Nickell, which seems very authoritative. I believe there is a confustion between two different things here. Sandarac was used to prepare unsized paper or parchment for writing,so the ink would not be absorbed too quickly. Calais and other types of beach sand were used to blot via capillary action. Many old documents show silica from the sand.

 

Now what I would like to know is where to find fine, clean beach sand, such as is used in hour glasses.

 

Steve

I love that book Pen, Ink and Evidence and recommend it to those interested in pen history. We've got lots lot fine white sand in our sand blaster. PM me if it's not readily available at your hardware store. I used it on letters that I wrote in dip pen for a while and it was fun... buy messy. :headsmack: I finally realized that my problem was using coated paper that left the ink sitting on top.

 

Thanks! I knew there must be a common source somewhere. I will start at Home Depot! Steve

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Bo Bo Olson

It was not so much the "erosion" of the Miami beach, as it was it changed to the normal sand colored beach in the mid-late '60s and the advertisement was White Sands of Miami. So Miami's white sand was imported from Alabama.

German vintage '50-70 semi-flex stubs and those in oblique give the real thing in On Demand line variation. Modern Oblique is a waste of money for a shadow of line variation. Being too lazy to Hunt for affordable vintage oblique pens, lets you 'hunt' for line variation instead of having it.

RIP...200's once great nib, now a double ball.:crybaby::wallbash:

 

The cheapest lessons are from those who learned expensive lessons. Ignorance is best for learning expensive lessons.

 

 

 

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