This delicate blue and white faience inkstand transports us back to a time in which letter writing was an integral part of daily communications. The inkstand was made in Rouen, an early center of production for French ceramics known as faience, which is tin-glazed earthenware. Between 1644 and the end of the eighteenth century, it is estimated that there were as many as twenty-two faience manufacturers in Rouen. This late eighteenth-century inkstand, with its rare heart shape and delicate flowers and lacy blue decorations on a white background, might have belonged to a young woman of the French upper class. Indeed, inkwells were common implements that could be found on the writing tables of most members of the Bourgeoisie. The two wells contained in the lobes of the heart would have been used to contain ink and pounce, respectively. Pounce is a finely ground powder (often, cuttlefish bone) used to dry ink, or render a rough surface smoother for writing. We can imagine the young woman, on the eve of the French Revolution, writing a letter to a suitor and quickly sprinkling pounce on the letter, before a messenger carried the missive away.
Catherine Powell is a graduate student in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies program at the Cooper Hewitt, and is a Fellow in the Product Design and Decorative Arts Department.