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Pocket book and stylus

Pocket book and stylus

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1680 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Museum number:

    M.74:1, 2-1982

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 54, case 2 []

Object Type
This small book with its matching gold stylus would have fitted into a pocket. It might have been used as a diary or a notebook. The cover is of black shagreen, a type of leather made from shark or fish skin, and decorated with round-headed gold studs. The inside cover is lined with a thick paper painted with leaves in gold on a purple ground. When the book is closed, four bands of engraved gold form a tube into which the stylus fits. The book would originally have held paper, which would have been coated so that the metal stylus would leave a track like that of a pencil on paper.

The mounted seal at the end of the stylus shows the arms of Burnet impaling those of the See of Salisbury (impaling means that the two coats of arms appear on a shield divided vertically into two). Gilbert Burnet (1643-1715) was at the centre of English political life for many years. He was fiercely anti-Roman Catholic and was dismissed from his post as King's Chaplain under Charles II (ruled 1660-1685). Exiled to The Hague in The Netherlands, he became an adviser to William of Orange (1650-1702), later William III of England. He was later made Bishop of Salisbury. He was also a writer and historian. His best known work is the History of My Own Times, which mixes anecdote, history and autobiography.

Social Class
By the 17th century, most of the gentry and upper classes could read and write, but few other people could do so. The use of a pocket book and stylus and the high quality of the materials suggest that the owner was a wealthy and educated person.

Place of Origin

England (made)


ca. 1680 (made)



Marks and inscriptions

Engraved with the arms of Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury (born in Edinburgh, 1643 and died in London, 1715) impaling those of the see of Salisbury

Object history note

Made in England

Descriptive line

Pocket book and stylus

Labels and date

British Galleries:

In about 1680 separate pockets made of soft leather were stitched to the seams inside loose-fitting breeches. Here a gentleman of fashion could carry valuables such as these without creating an unsightly bulge, and safe from pickpockets. The gold box was probably used for snuff or for cachous - pills made from cashew nut or licorice, taken by smokers to sweeten their breath. [27/03/2003]


Metalwork Collection

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