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Pen Box (Qalamdan)

1860-1865
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

The primary function of a pen box (qalamdan) was as a writing implement - made of papier mache, wood or other materials, including precious metals – intended to hold a number of tools associated with the art and act of writing, including reed pens, an inkwell, liqah (a cotton wool substance used to absorb excess ink), a penknife, a qat’zan (a flat resting board made of horn), a whetstone, a small spoon, and a pair of scissors. These accessories were considered essential elements for a scribe. The box that kept these elements was deemed, by association, as important as the person who handled its contents, with the quality of the box’s decoration directly reflecting the status of the scribe or patron.

Pen boxes were carried by penmen of all ranks, often tucked into the shawls tied around their waists, symbolising a badge of their trade. So esteemed was the pen box that even Shahs commissioned them; these rare examples are confirmed by their inscriptions. The earliest specimens of this type date from the reign of Shah Sulayman Safavi (1664-95), but later Qajar examples commissioned by members of high bureaucracy also exist throughout the nineteenth century.



Object details
Category
Object type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.

  • Pen Case
  • Pen Case Part
Materials and techniques
Carved and varnished pearwood
Brief description
Pen box (qalamdan), carved wood with birds and foliage, Iran (Abadeh), Qajar period, 1860-1865
Physical description
Oblong shaped pen box with rounded edges, carved on all sides in low relief with floral sprays and small birds against a finely dotted background. The case slides open from one side.
Dimensions
  • Length: 20.5 cm
  • Width: 3.8 cm
  • Height: 3.7 cm
Style
Object history
Purchased at the Paris Exhibition of 1867.
Summary
The primary function of a pen box (qalamdan) was as a writing implement - made of papier mache, wood or other materials, including precious metals – intended to hold a number of tools associated with the art and act of writing, including reed pens, an inkwell, liqah (a cotton wool substance used to absorb excess ink), a penknife, a qat’zan (a flat resting board made of horn), a whetstone, a small spoon, and a pair of scissors. These accessories were considered essential elements for a scribe. The box that kept these elements was deemed, by association, as important as the person who handled its contents, with the quality of the box’s decoration directly reflecting the status of the scribe or patron.



Pen boxes were carried by penmen of all ranks, often tucked into the shawls tied around their waists, symbolising a badge of their trade. So esteemed was the pen box that even Shahs commissioned them; these rare examples are confirmed by their inscriptions. The earliest specimens of this type date from the reign of Shah Sulayman Safavi (1664-95), but later Qajar examples commissioned by members of high bureaucracy also exist throughout the nineteenth century.



Bibliographic reference
Nasser Khalili, B.W. Robinson, and Tim Stanley, Lacquer of the Islamic Lands (London: The Nour Foundation, 1997), pp. 10-16.
Collection
Accession number
924:1-1869

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Record createdJune 24, 2009
Record URL
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