6638

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Mughal Scribe’s Silver Pen Box (Kalamdan)

Mughal, Northern India
18th century

length: 25cm, depth: 7.7cm, height: 7.1cm, weight: 1,193g

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Provenance

Private Collection, England.

This exceptional pen box or kalamdan is of heavy, solid, high-grade silver. No expense was spared in its manufacture – it was obviously intended for a wealthy and probably aristocratic client. Most probably it was made in Mughal northern India. It might also have been made in the Deccan.

It is of long, rectangular form, and comprises a base with a hinged, lid with bevelled sides. All corners of the lid and base are decorated with applied, leafy embellishments.  Each sides is also chased with upper and lower borders of leaf and flower motifs. There is a latch at the front that is decorated with a stylised Mughal poppy motif. This is repeated on the reverse of the box with the hinges. Double silver chains attach the lid to the base on both sides. The box sits on four small feet.

The lid lifts to reveal lift-out compartments, all in high-grade silver: a double pen tray cut with arabesque arches, and two long, square boxes – one for ink and the other probably for fine drying sand. Each of these has a round cover decorated with a leafy embellishment.

A pen box of similar form is in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and illustrated in Terlinden (1987, p. 157).  Terlinden comments in respect of the box ‘the crispness of design and the extraordinary high degree of technical skill displayed by this object is the product of a centuries-old tradition. In the Emperor Akbar’s court, for example, specialised craftsmen were honoured for the high quality of their work and unreasonable pressure was never exerted on them to create a particular piece.’

The example here is solid and noticeably heavy in the hand. It is in excellent condition and is a rare, impressive example.

References

Terlinden, C., Mughal Silver Magnificence, Antalga, 1987.

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