The History of the Pomander Ball | Victorian History


Pomanders have been popular throughout the ages, not only as a lovely gift, Christmas decoration, or closet freshener, but as a coveted possession. Here is some information Meredith Sweetpea uncovered that was written in 1822 about scent balls and pomanders.

Scent Balls and Pomanders

Of very ancient date are these pretty perfumed caskets, and gentry of the olden time had as much pleasure in them as do the belles of the present in artistic vinaigrettes. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries it was deemed an essential to a lady in full dress. Gentlemen, too, fond of sweet and spicy odors, availed themselves of this custom.

“A scent ball,” mentioned as belonging to the daughter of an earl, in 1321, is described as a “poume all aumbre,” of which, doubtless, ambergris was a principal ingredient. Nutmegs set in silver and much decorated with stones and pearls were also in request. These delicate creations for the toilette are alluded to as “rare and highly prized.”

Even crowned heads did not disdain acquaintance with the attractive trifle. When in 1423 account was made of the valuables of King “Henry the Fift,” prominence was given to “a musk ball of gold weighing eleven ounces, and another of silver-gilt,” hardly less precious, counting the costly ingredients. A little later the style that they be “worn as a pendant to a lady’s girdle’ was in vogue.

Many recipes for the compounding of these aromatic balls were then offered for popular favor. Probably because less expensive, oranges were introduced as a satisfactory substitute, but special preparation was demanded; often dried Seville oranges were studded with cloves and other pungent spices, and were regarded as a preservation against infection. A writer of Wolsey’s time describes the cardinal “entering a crowded chamber, holding in his hand a very fair orange, whereof the meat within was taken out, and filled up again with the part of a sponge, wherein vinegar and other convections against pestilent airs, into the which he ominously smelt when passing among the press.”

In the gilt and silver pomanders perforations were made, through which odors from hidden spices escaped. We have them in our own day, artistic and dainty in appearance, often adorned with gems, having chains and rings attached, as did “or well-appointed foremothers,” and containing the very essence of sweet and searching odors, pungent perfumes, filling the atmosphere with “intangible delight.

The Modern Pomander

Today, homemade pomander balls are often used to freshen closets and serve as a chemical free way to repel pests, such as moths. Unlike chemical closet fresheners, they will not pollute the air with substances that can be harmful to children or pets.

–excerpted from Victorian Embroidery and Crafts

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