Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Pen case

Pen case

  • Place of origin:


  • Date:

    circa 1600

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved brass with traces of gilding

  • Credit Line:

    Lt. Col. G. B. Croft-Lyons Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Portable pen cases or penners were hung from the belt along with inkhorns. They were a convenient way to carry writing implements around and remained in use until the late 18th century. Penners were made of ivory, horn, silver or as this one, engraved gilt copper. They were cleverly compartmentalised so quills and other tools could be stored without damaging them. This example could be fastened to a belt by the loops on the sides.

Penners were essential tools for notaries, merchants and scholars. Around 1490, an Oxford schoolmaster reproved his student for being poorly supplied: “Methinkest thou lackest many things that it is need[ful] for a good scholar to have, first a penner and an inkhorn and then books”. Another young scholar of the same date was better equipped: "[At] the last fair, my uncle on my father's side gave me a penner and an inkhorn, and my uncle of my mother's side gave me a penknife. Now and I had a pair of tables, I lacked nothing".

Physical description

Rectangular case of engraved brass with traces of gilding. Oblong with side attachments, decorated with a bird and arabesques with lion masks holding rings. Pull off cover.

Place of Origin



circa 1600



Materials and Techniques

Engraved brass with traces of gilding


Height: 17.6 cm, Width: 4 cm, Depth: 4.2 cm

Descriptive line

Copper-gilt. Germany; early-mid 16th century.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Finlay, Michael: "Western writing implements in the age of the quill pen", Cumbria, 1990
Rachel Church, Writing Equipment and Women in Europe 1500-1900, Women's Writing, 21:3, 2014, pp. 385-404, fig. 2
Orme, Nicholas, "Medieval schools from Roman Britain to Renaissance England", Yale University Press, 2006

Labels and date


Before modern transport people largely travelled on foot or on horseback. Useful everyday items needed to be carried comfortably on the body. Some were miniature versions of larger objects, others folded ingeniously to become portable. Often they were intricate and delicate.

These eleven items were personal possessions. Many were made before pockets were commonplace. Some were used in the workplace, some at home and some on the road.

Many have cases as stylish as the objects they protect. These cases came in a range of materials, from expensive ivory and sharkskin to cheaper leather and wood. Their decoration shows the same designs that adorn silver, ceramics and textiles.

All these objects give us interesting insights into work, leisure and social etiquette

Engraved brass
Germany, 1550-1600

Writing equipment was fragile. Metal pencases, or penners, were cleverly compartmented so pencils or quills to be stored without damaging them. This example could be fastened to a belt by the loops on the sides.

Croft-Lyons Bequest
Museum no. M.670-1926 []


Brass (alloy)


Engraving (incising); Gilding

Subjects depicted

Arabesques; Birds; Foliage


Metalwork; Personal accessories


Metalwork Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.