Mamluk Pen Box (Qalamdan)

The Show


Mamluk pen box (qalamdan) 14th century, Egypt Brass inlaid with gold and silver Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, 28802

Mamluk pen box


Mamluk pen box


This oblong, hinged pen box is made of brass and inlaid with gold and silver, much of which is now lost. The case belonged to a Mamluk official (amir) active in Egypt during the mid-14th century. The amir's name, Sharaf al-Din, appears on the box three times within bands of Arabic inscriptions listing his various titles—such as "Warrior for the Faith" and "Defender of the Frontiers"—and the positions he held, including that of royal chamberlain. Ornately decorated and inlaid boxes such as this one functioned as tools and symbols of high office. Kept inside were a reed pen (qalam) and inkpot. A good pen could last decades if cared for properly, while its use in administrative and literary practices symbolized wisdom and learning.

Bibliography: Grabar 1961; Ward 1993, 106–120, fig. 85; and Zakariya 1991.

Return to the Show