Tools of the Trade

Pen box, 13th Century, Western Iran or Northern Iraq, Brass inlaid with gold and silver. Image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Pen box, 13th Century, Western Iran or Northern Iraq, Brass inlaid with gold and silver. Image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Many scribes had a tool kit with the essentials referred to today as an Islamic writing box. Inside scribes would keep everything they needed for the task at hand including; penknives, pens and ink. Boxes were usually decorated with engravings, carvings or inlays.

The essential tool for any scribe is the pen, or qalam. Islamic scribes used a hard reed that had been soaked in water as their pen. The tip of the pen was cut with a sharp knife (a penknife) using a downward motion to create a sloped edge. Scribes used the pen at all angles creating a variety of letter shapes. Each scribe had their own writing style and would develop their own techniques to achieve their desired script.

The ink well was often incorporated into the design of the writing box, with the pens fitting at one end and the ink well at the other. Rather than dipping the pen directly into the well a small piece of wool or felt called a liq was used to absorb a smaller amount of ink. The liq served a couple purposes, it held the ink in suspension, it cleaned the pen and was less messy than dipping directly into the well.

Want to learn more about inks or manuscript decoration? Check out these posts!

A few interesting links for your enjoyment:

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