You probably thought the purpose of a piece of bread was for eating – but years ago stale bread was used as an eraser for black lead pencil marks.
Art students and architects were advised to make light outlines with a soft pencil, and rub out errors with an Indian rubber or crumb of bread.
Clearly, the rubber – a blend of milky tree saps from tropical forests – was more convenient and less messy, so it took over from the crumbly carb approach to erasing.
In those days, though, a rubber wasn’t called a rubber, it was known as “gum elastic”, and was first sold in the UK in the 18th century by a British stationer called Edward Nairne. He used to sell small cubes of the material for about three shillings, which was a lot of money at the time, although he pointed out to customers that the cubes would last for years.
In the 19th century gum elastic was replaced with vulcanised (stabilised) rubber which had been processed, and shortly after that a man named Lipman had the bright idea of putting a rubber on top of a pencil.
That began a big debate over whether it’s better to have a rubber attached to a pencil, or use them as two separate items. I like to keep mine separate – which side of the fence are you on?