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USF Libraries Exhibits

The Sponge Industry: Selling Sponges

In 1908 the Sponge Exchange was founded as a cooperatively owned space and system for buying and grading sponges. It hosted sponge auctions every Tuesday and Friday. After the Sponge Exchange was demolished in 1981 and replaced with boutiques, sponge harvests were displayed on the docks so that merchants could offer a bid to the owner.

Merchants are central to domestic and international sponge distribution.  Often they belong to families that have worked in every aspect of the business for generations.  Some are so knowledgeable that they can discern where a sponge came from and when it was harvested.  

In the past, there were many independent local sponge buyers, as well as agents of larger international merchant houses.  Today the few active large-scale buyers have close personal or business ties with distributors in Greece or other parts of Europe.  Most merchants buy less expensive sponges from the Bahamas in addition to those produced by local spongers.   

In the distributors’ warehouses, sponges are processed or cut according to order specifications.  Some are sold in their natural state, but may be trimmed to a size appropriate to the intended function.  For cosmetic and other uses, sponges are bleached in successive chemical baths, trimmed to small sizes, compacted into bales by a sponge press, and shipped.