`

The imaginative incorporation of strange objects and materials

Reading the news of the Queen's Speech being written on specially prepared paper on which the ink takes several days to dry, reminded me of the ancient inkwell or standish as it was known which always included a pounce pot or sand pot.

Mostly made of silver or pewter their popularity was confined to the educated classes and first appeared in well-to-do houses during the mid-17th century at which time the Commonwealth restricted any elaborate decoration. 

The standard form was of two inkwells and the pounce pot in the middle. This was to take gum of sandarac, hence the sand description. Furthered I'm sure by Hollywood period movies it has long been the belief that the sand was used to dry the ink when a letter had been written. 

This of course is nonsense. Sandarac is not a blotter but an abrasive which was used to smooth the vellum, skin or parchment and indeed early coarse paper, before writing the letter.The form of the standish followed the fashion of the day from the solemnity of the 1650's to the extravagance of the Carolean period. Silver examples from the Rococo period are marvellous examples of the style, while a dramatic change occurred with the establishment of the Classical movement after the 1770's.

Following the Imperialist, Greaco-Roman styles of the Regency, and given more elements of society were able to read and write, inkwells became simpler inasmuch as the pounce pot disappeared on all but ceremonial pieces.

However, the Victorians knew no bounds to their imaginative incorporation of strange objects and materials in all the decorative arts and the inkwell was no exception. Hooves from famous horses, horns from every type of Indian and African animal, tortoise and terrapin shells, and castings of bronze, carved wood and glass were used in conjunction with base, semi-precious and precious metals.

But whatever the material, always remember that if there is a pounce pot, it is not for drying the ink but for preparing the paper, just like the Queen's Speech.