In times of infectious diseases, people invent all types of ways to keep that disease far from them. A long time sick people wear herbs with them to keep the illness away. No idea whether that treatment helps, but men and females like the smell. Especially in the days that a bath was a great event that is practiced not too often.

But to carry around with a full bag of herbs around your waist is not practical. And after the invention of perfume the pomander, a jewel with a perfect smell becomes popular.

Let’s keep things in perspective

Probably the idea of using herbs for keeping bad smells away and for ‘perfuming’ the death originates from Egypt. The herbs are also used to incent the gods and in religious gatherings. It is the Greek that starts to use the herbs as frankincense and myrrh for taking a bath and perfuming their body (daily use). The frankincense and myrrh are stored in small bottles, called ‘aryballos’.

In the first century BC, glass blowing is invented in Syria. And not long after that the ‘herb bottles’ are made of glass. The herb bottle in those days could be more valuable than pieces of jewelry.

The Feniciens are thé tradespeople in the Mediterranean Sea area and in their ships, they transport the herb bottles in different shapes and materials. The bottle is so popular that every area has its own shape.

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Old silver pomander boxes

The Arabs invent a perfume

Up to the 12th century, nothing changes in the perfume industry, which is actually a ‘herb’ industry. People can make as kind of oil out of the herbs, but it is no liquid perfume as we know it today.

But then… the Arabs invent the technique of distillation. Not only herbs but also flowers, smelling leaves, amber, ailment, and musk are boiled, distilled, and end up as a perfumed type of oil (still solid).

People think that this perfumed oil has therapeutical powers and is the remedy to keep pestilence and other pandemic illnesses away. It is a multi-functional remedy since they think that perfume enlarges the male potential and strengthen female organs.

That perfume has to be stored

As easy as the herbs can be carried along in a bag around your waist, the perfumed oil has to be stored in some way.

Just as before the 12th century when all types and shapes of aryballos are available. And now when every perfume maker designs a perfume and a matching bottle. In those days perfume makers and jewelry makers sit together and come up with an ideal storage product.. the pomander.

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Early 20th-century silver and crystal perfume bottles

What is a pomander?

In the early Middle Ages, a pomander is a silver bowl with a lot of small parts with holes in them. Every part contains another perfumed oil or spice and the smell spreads around. To make it more practical the bowl is attached to a beautiful chain, like a necklace.

A pomander is initially a French word. It means ‘pomme d’amber’ or apple of amber.

In the second part of the 13th century, the perfumed oil gets a liquid sister. The perfume or ‘cologne’ is made of alcohol and essential oils. And is stored in all types and shapes of perfume bottles made of glass and crystal. Initially, the pomander is of no use anymore since the liquid will flow away through the holes.

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A silver pomander necklace

The next generation pomander

After the 16th century is becoming fashionable to wear wigs. And the system of running hot water is not invented yet. Taking a bath is not a daily practice. And let’s be honest: people just smell without a bath. And with wigs where flees are jumping from one wig to another. You make not have a great smell but even then…

The pomander starts with a popularity battle. The bowl loses its parts and becomes a ball with two parts. It looks like a small beautifully decorated silver container on a necklace or in the shape of a ring. In the ball, you put a small piece of cotton or cedarwood. And every time you feel to you spray a little bit of perfume on the cotton or wood. The smell comes through the small holes of the ball and your clothing, hair, and skin smell delicious.

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Modern silver with cedarwood pomander necklace

The pomander is no vaccine against Covid-19

Maybe it is just a coincidence but nowadays I see more and more pomanders on the market. I don’t think it is a good idea to use it as prevention against Covid-19. But it cannot be bad to wear a beautiful necklace with a smelling pendant.

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