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An Investigation of Pounce used in Calligraphy

prepared by Jeanne Rose

The Plant

The Resin


            Pounce- a finely ground fragrant powder prepared from gum Sandarac mixed with pumice or cuttlefish bone.  Originally used to prevent ink from spreading on unsized paper or over an erasure, as well as to prepare vellum to take writing ink.  Now is also used as an adhesive in gold tooling and in the coloring of the edges of books.

Trouble writing on a surface? You might consider Pounce or Sandarac. Pounce gives tooth to smooth papers. Use pounce for papers on which ink lies on the surface. Pounce removes the slickness and degreases preventing the ink from spreading. But be careful as too much will cause a total resist! Now, Sandarac is used for paper that is too absorbent, on which the ink sinks into spreading and bleeding. Sandarac is a pine like resin. You can buy sandarac in lumps and grind it with a mortar and pestle. But it takes so much grinding you might consider buying it! You can purchase it at a drafting supply store, or both can be purchased through Paper and Ink, or John Neal. Virginia Meltzer, Missoula , Montana

Gum Juniper. The resin of the North African tree Tetraclinis articulata, Common name - Gum Juniper.  The name is from the Assyrian words for "as bright as the moon," referring to the mineral it resembles.  It is a brittle resin in the form of opaque, yellowish tears, or broken cylindrical pieces.  The yellow tears are especially aromatic when heated.

Sandarac - a resin obtained from either of two coniferous trees, Tetraclinis articulata of NW Africa and (more fully Australian Sandarac) Callitris endlicheri of Australia, which is used in the preparation of varnishes and in calligraphy for blotting ink.  Also gum sandarac. (The New Shorter Oxford )

            Sandarac is the resin exudate from the tree Callitris quadrivalvis Vent.  A conifer native to northern Africa , Morocco

Cost : For use in calligraphy, Sandarac is used to prepare the paper  for the ink. In 1998, Sandarac resin, pea size, 15 lbs cost $551.84 or $36.00 per lb. In 2002, the Scents of Earth on-line catalog, P.O. Box 859 , Sun City , CA (1/800/323-8159, the cost was $88/kilogram or $40/lb. and $2.50/oz plus the cost of shipping. Sandarac can be purchased from Atelier Gargoyle, a fine calligraphy partnership for $9.50 for 4 oz.

Physicochemical Properties

Product Name

Sandarac, resin, pea size

Botanical or Scientific Name

Thuja articulata, (Tetraclinis articulata)


yellow color tears

Refractive Index


Softening Point

100-130C, 212-266 F

Melting Point

135-150C, 275-302 F

Specific Gravity

1.05 - 1.09

Acid Number




Iodine Number


Solubility Type


Insolubility Type

aryl and aliphatic hydrocarbons
not soluble in water

Uses : Used in tooth cements, lacquers, varnishes and as incense.  It is used as an aid in ointments and plasters in the pharmaceutical industry. (C. q.)

            The resin from Tetraclinis articulata is used as a fixative woody pine or oriental perfume.  Also used in the manufacture of spirit varnishes, and if dissolved in oil, to make cooked varnishes.  Powered it is used to clean vellum and to prepare it for writing purposes.  Its most outstanding property is its hardness.

            Gulm Sandarac from Tetraclinis articulata is used to make liquor.  In Morocco , it is used if childbirth becomes difficult.  It has a calming effect and reduces cramps.  In Arabian countries, it is burned to treat colds.  The resin is also taken internally to treat roundworms and tapeworms.  The warm, balsamic fragrance is nice in the evenings to relax, calm and ease tension.  It is useful for stress induced insomnia.

Constituents : Approximately 80% pimaric acid, ~10% callitrolic acid and sandaricinic acid    (C.q.)

Odor Description :     Gum resin from Tetraclinis articulata has a warm, light, fruity, balsamic, frankincense-like fragrance.

Safety : Sandarac is probably not toxic, because resins in tear form are not, however precautions should be taken, and it should be kept from children's reach.  Make sure you remove excess from the hands and wash hands before preparing or eating food.  Since it is soluble in alcohol, ether, acetone and other solvents, which are more toxic than the Sandarac, precautions should be taken when cleaning up.

            The US Department of Labor MSDS states that Sandarac resin, pea-size "may be irritating to skin and eyes.  Repeated contact may cause allergic dermatitis."


Alchemy Works. e-mail (not printable)

Book Arts e-mail

Chart Corporation, Inc., (was Pennick) 787 E. 27th St. , Paterson , NJ 07504 , 201/345-5554 or FAX 201/345-2139 or 973/345-2139

Etherington & Roberts.  Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology.  e-mail

Parchment Questions e-mail. Is gum Sandarac poisonous?

Ravines, Patrick.  e-mail.><

Scents of Earth website

The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Ed. Lesley Brown.  Clarendon             Press, Oxford 1993.

US Department of Labor, Material Safety Data Sheet, 1995.


All Rights Reserved 2004. No part of this article may be used
without prior permission from The Aromatic Plant Project.
Author's Copyright and Jeanne Rose,

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