Saturday, September 28, 2013

Unusual Artifacts: A Shagreen Pocket Book and Stylus, 1680

Click image for detail.
Shagreen Pocket Book with Gold Mounts and Stylus
English, c. 1680
This and all related images from
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This Seventeenth Century pocket book is just that—a pocket book. While we tend to think of a purse when we hear that term, this object is actually a small book with a matching gold stylus which would have fitted into a person’s pocket to use as a diary or notebook.

The cover of the book is covered in black shagreen (shark or fish skin) which has been adorned with rounded gold studs. The inside of the cover is lined with a thick paper which has been painted with gold foliage on a purple ground.

Four bands of engraved gold create a holder for the stylus. When first used, this book would have been filled with paper which had been coated in wax. The metal stylus would have left a track or mark in the wax which could be later smoothed out and used again. We know to whom this lovely little item belonged. The end of the stylus is mounted with a seal which depicts the arms of Burnet impaling those of the See of Salisbury. In this case, “impaling” refers to two coats of arms which appear on a shield which has divided vertically into two. Gilbert Burnet (1643-1715) was a prolific politician of the Late Seventeenth Century in Britain and Europe. He was, as many were at the time, staunchly anti-Roman Catholic. This bias caused his dismissal from his post as King's Chaplain under Charles II (ruled 1660-1685). Burnet was then exiled to The Hague in The Netherlands where was appointed as an adviser to William of Orange (1650-1702), and, later William III of England. This led to his commission as the Bishop of Salisbury. Known also as a writer and historian, Burnet is best known for his book “History of My Own Times,” which is ostensibly an amalgam of anecdote, history and autobiography.

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