Name of Object:

Writing set


Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey

Holding Museum:

Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts

About Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Sultanahmet

Date of Object:

Pen-cutting slab (makta), burnishing tool (mühre) and knife (kalemtraş): hegira 12th–13th century / AD 18th–19th century; Scissors (makas): hegira 13th / AD 19th century; case (kubur): dated hegira 1131 (AD 1718)

Artist(s) / Craftsperson(s):

The case only made by Ali Üsküdari.

Museum Inventory Number:

قالب قص الريشة: L.T. 12؛ أداة صقل: 3371؛ سكين: 334

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Pen-cutting slab (makta): Carved ivory; burnishing tool (mühre): glass; knife (kalemtraş): carved bone and metal; scissors (makas): iron inlaid with gold; case (kubur): cardboard, leather, metal.


Pen-cutting slab (makta): length 19 cm; burnishing tool (mühre): length 16 cm; knife (kalemtraş): length 19.5 cm; scissors (makas): length 22.2 cm; case (kubur): length 32 cm, diameter (at base) 4 cm

Period / Dynasty:



Probably Istanbul, Turkey.


The pen-cutting slab (makta) is made of very finely carved ivory. The upper section features a depiction of a Mevlevi dervish's headdress on a pedestal, while the lower section has a tree in a flowerpot. The craftsman included the headdress of the Mevlevi order, of which he was a member. The burnishing tool (mühre) is made of glass. It is large enough to fill the palm of one's hand. The cutting edge of the knife (kalemtraş) is of metal, while the handle, made of bone, terminates in the motif of a hand with its fingers closed. The scissors (makas) are made of iron. The entire surface is decorated with vegetal motifs inlaid with gold. The handle of the scissors is in the form of two facing inscriptions reading 'Ya Fattah' ('O He Who opens!'), one of the 99 Names of God meaning 'God is the opener of all doors'. The case (kubur) is cylindrical and made of thick cardboard with black leather stretched over it. In the base there is a brass inkwell. The outer surface of the case is decorated in the naturalistic Turkish Baroque-Rococo style with spiralling branches and flowers in various colours and gilding executed in a lacquer technique known as Edirnekari .The case was made by Ali Üsküdari; its distinguishing characteristic is that it contains a reservoir for ink.

Calligraphy is one of the greatest fields in which Islamic art has expressed itself. The Ottoman sultans in particular took lessons in calligraphy and created their own examples. Among the sultans proficient in the art of calligraphy might be counted Ahmed III, Mustafa II, Mahmud II and Abdülmecid I.

The calligrapher would use these tools thus: he cut the paper he was going to use with scissors, and applied a finish to the paper to make it shine, this he did with the burnishing tool; the paper was then placed in the case to protect it. He took his bamboo-reed pen and placed it on the pen-cutting slab; he then trimmed it to the desired thickness with the knife. Then he wrote with his calligraphic pen, using the ink he kept in the inkwell. All these tools were kept as a group in a writing box. Calligrapher's tools themselves became works of art, decorated according to the taste of the age in which they were made. Symbolic images often embellished writing tools, as is seen on the pen-cutting slab from this ensemble, reflecting the dervish order to which the calligrapher belonged.

View Short Description

As the art of calligraphy continued to flourish, the tools and implements used for its creation became works of art themselves. Knives and slabs for shaving pens, paper scissors and cases to carry the tools deservedly assumed fame in their own right in Islamic art.

Original Owner:

Pen-cutting slab (makta): Leyla Turgut (one of the first female Turkish architects); burnishing tool (mühre): Necmeddin Okyay (calligrapher, AD 1883–1976)

Knife (kalemtraş): ibn al-Emin Mahmud Kemal (writer and former director of the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art)

Scissors (makas): Süleyman Şevket Bey (of the Foreign Affairs Ministry)

Case (kubur): Sadi Belger (former arms dealer, 20th century)

How date and origin were established:

The pen-cutting slab (makta) was dated on the basis of its craftsmanship and the designs on it because decoration with gold inlaid into metal is frequently encountered in the 12th–13th / 18th–19th centuries. Burnishing tools (mühre) were generally made of wood and seashells. Examples made of glass are encountered in the 12th and 13th / 18th and 19th centuries. The knife (kalemtraş) is dated on the basis of its craftsmanship. The pair of scissors (makas) is dated on the basis of both the craftsmanship and the design, especially the inscription 'Ya Fattah' which is seen in the 13th / 19th century. The case (kubur) is dated in an inscription stating that it was made by Ali Üsküdari of Istanbul in AH 1131 / AD 1718.

How Object was obtained:

Pen-cutting slab (makta): Part of the estate of the architect Leyla Turgut, which was donated to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art in 1990.

Burnishing tool (mühre): Gift to the Museum from the calligrapher Necmeddin Okyay in 1921.

Knife (kalemtraş): Donated to the Museum by Ibn al-Emin Mahmud Kemal, former Director of the Museum, in 1919.

Scissors (makas): Gift to the Museum from Süleyman Şevket Bey of the Foreign Affairs Ministry in 1919.

Case (kubur): Purchased in 1986 from the estate of Sadi Belger.

How provenance was established:

These objects are thought to have been made in Istanbul, which was the centre of Ottoman calligraphy. The case was made by an artist from Istanbul, which suggests that it was made in Istanbul as well.

Selected bibliography:

ölçer, N. et al, In Pursuit of Excellence: The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Istanbul, 1993, pp.70–73.
ölçer, N. et al, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Istanbul, 2002, p.318.
çağman, F., and Aksoy, Ş., Osmanlı Sanatında Hat, Istanbul 1998, pp.18–32.
(The case has not been published).

Citation of this web page:

Şule Aksoy "Writing set" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019.;ISL;tr;Mus01;43;en

Prepared by: Şule AksoyŞule Aksoy

Şule Aksoy is Vice Director of the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul. She was born in Istanbul in 1947. She graduated from the Department of History and Art History of the Faculty of Letters, Istanbul University in 1970. She has been working at the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul since 1967, first as an expert, then as the Head of the Manuscripts Department until 2003, when she became Vice Director. She has participated in numerous projects and exhibitions organised by the museum and is the author of various publications.

Translation by: Barry WoodBarry Wood

Barry Wood is Curator (Islamic Gallery Project) in the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He studied history of art at Johns Hopkins University and history of Islamic art and architecture at Harvard University, from where he obtained his Ph.D. in 2002. He has taught at Harvard, Eastern Mediterranean University, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the Courtauld Institute of Art. He has also worked at the Harvard University Art Museums and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. He has published on topics ranging from Persian manuscripts to the history of exhibitions.
, İnci Türkoğluİnci Türkoğlu

İnci Türkoğlu has been working as a tourist guide and freelance consultant in tourism and publishing since 1993. She was born in Alaşehir, Turkey, in 1967. She graduated from the English Department of Bornova Anatolian High School in 1985 and lived in the USA for a year as an exchange student. She graduated from the Department of Electronic Engineering of the Faculty of Architecture and Engineering, Dokuz Eylül University, Izmir, and the professional tourist guide courses of the Ministry of Tourism in 1991. She worked as an engineer for a while. She graduated from the Department of Art History, Faculty of Letters, Ege University, Izmir, in 1997 with an undergraduate thesis entitled “Byzantine House Architecture in Western Anatolia”. She completed her Master's at the Byzantine Art branch of the same department in 2001 with a thesis entitled “Synagogue Architecture in Turkey from Antiquity to the Present”. She has published on art history and tourism.

Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: TR 72


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