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Old 13th September 2013, 05:12 PM   #1
olaicollector
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Default Palm Leaf Manuscript Foldable Stylus Knife

Hi,

I am new to these forums, so please forgive my ignorance in any matter. I am actually a collector of palm leaf manuscripts and hence I collect various styluses that are used to inscribe them. Among my collection, is the following stylus that happened to be posted numerous times on this forum. Since I can read Tamil, I figured I can provide a better attribution for these knifes...

This particular stylus is called மடக்கெழுத்தாணி (Maṭakkeḻuttāṇi), which literally translates to foldable writing nail in English. The oldest reference I could find is a 1868 Tamil-English dictionary. But beyond that, this particular item is not mentioned. The more generic ones are described though. Let me know if you need more information on these. As a side note, I want to know how I can remove the rust buildup on the blade. What is the recommended method to clean this without leaving scratches on the blade and removing the patina??

Thanks,

Ram
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Last edited by olaicollector : 14th September 2013 at 12:38 PM.
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Old 14th September 2013, 04:57 PM   #2
laEspadaAncha
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Hello Ram and welcome to the forum!

Thank you for posting this beautiful 'scribe' folder... you'll see my humble example in the other thread in whch you translated the initials on an ex-OA piece.

As you collect them, to your knowledge, do there exist any stylistic differences between these stylus knives to be found on both coasts (with regards to handle construction, shape, blade shape/grind, etc)?

Cheers,
Chris
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Old 14th September 2013, 05:48 PM   #3
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rust removal:

you can use the forum search function to search on 'rust removal'

one thread found out of many:

Linky to thread

agressive chemicals and/or abrasives will remove the patina.
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Old 15th September 2013, 12:19 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by laEspadaAncha
Hello Ram and welcome to the forum!

Thank you for posting this beautiful 'scribe' folder... you'll see my humble example in the other thread in which you translated the initials on an ex-OA piece.

As you collect them, to your knowledge, do there exist any stylistic differences between these stylus knives to be found on both coasts (with regards to handle construction, shape, blade shape/grind, etc)?

Cheers,
Chris


Thanks for the warm welcome! I am not sure about other Southern Asian countries, but in South India, there were several different types of these foldable styluses. I have two different types and both of these types have already been posted in the forum. The differences are usually in the handles. The materials used are either ivory, animal horns, brass, or wood.

I am currently pursuing an investigation on the origin of these types of stylus as I have not been able to find references beyond 1860s. I have sent my request to some of India's manuscript scholars in this matter and hopefully I will get a response (might be difficult as I am an American with no pedigree in this, but who knows). I will keep you guys posted on my endeavor.

Finally, I am currently waiting shipment on a large collection of manuscripts and styluses from Denmark. The original origin of the contents happens to be from Sri Lanka and South India. So I should be in the process of receiving even more types in the coming weeks. Once it arrives, I'll post some pictures. There is a different type of stylus that has a curved knife one one end and the sharp stylus point on the other which should interest this forum...

Cheers,

Ram
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Old 15th September 2013, 12:46 AM   #5
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Ram, thank you for telling me what my knife, very similar, actually is. Bought years ago at a local antique show & don't even remember what they said it was, except it was from the East.

My collecting background is in antique guns, where one is very sensitive to possibly removing any original bluing or case hardening colors.

One must use something softer than the iron.
In my experience the best thing is a piece of copper or brass.
Good old bronze wool for the kitchen, if you can find it, works well with your favorite oil.
Stating what is the "best" penetrating oil is a little like positively identifying the Best brand of Whiskey.
Well, I'm not shy so I would use automatic transmission oil from your local auto parts store. This fluid itself is a cleaner, according to a good Automotive friend. Kroil is very good. Many people (not me!) like WD-40
Anyway, use copper or bronze wool and oil to scrub off the rust without damaging the color which you like.
I first learned this about 1961 cleaning crud off of an American Springfield M1873 caliber .45-70 rifle with a color case-hardened breech block. I was happy to see the case colors appear after I cleaned it with, I believe, a copper penny and whatever gun oil I had, probably Hoppe's No. 9.

So tomorrow I shall photograph my own "foldable writing nail" & post it.
What is the pointed wire used for?
Should you choose to include a dissertation on this blade of yours I will include it in my personal collection catalog.
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Old 15th September 2013, 11:28 AM   #6
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I have seen several of these offered on ebay as "rug weaver's knives". Is there any truth to that story? It seemed a bit strange to me whenever I read that. Glad to know what they were actually used for.

Rich
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Old 15th September 2013, 04:42 PM   #7
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I see there is writing on my knife. Cleaned the steel just a bit, with bronze wool and Johnson's Paste Wax (I did not want to get oil onto the ivory). It has a decorative silver strip inlaid on the back of both blades.

Ram, can you tell me if this is from mainland India, Sri Lanka, or somewhere else? Any chance the writing is legible? Part is scratched in, the second half looks like connected punch marks. I tried to make it more legible with a charcoal pencil, not much luck.
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Old 15th September 2013, 09:13 PM   #8
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I have a knife that to my uneducated eyes appears to be the same, or at least very similar to this type of knife. I bought it many years ago, and it was offered for sale with one that had an ivory handle, which I did not buy. Bought from an elderly middle eastern gentleman who told me it was a carpet maker's knife. Later a pocket knife collector told me the same thing.

However, that said, it does seem more logical that it is a scribe's knife.
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Old 15th September 2013, 09:58 PM   #9
laEspadaAncha
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rich
I have seen several of these offered on ebay as "rug weaver's knives". Is there any truth to that story? It seemed a bit strange to me whenever I read that. Glad to know what they were actually used for.

Rich

Quote:
Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey
I have a knife that to my uneducated eyes appears to be the same, or at least very similar to this type of knife. I bought it many years ago, and it was offered for sale with one that had an ivory handle, which I did not buy. Bought from an elderly middle eastern gentleman who told me it was a carpet maker's knife. Later a pocket knife collector told me the same thing.

However, that said, it does seem more logical that it is a scribe's knife.



Hi Rich & Alan,

These are fairly easily found along the Malabar coast of India, where they are described as being used as scribes' knives (for banana leaves IIRC).

That being said, I 've carried a pocket knife/folder for a good 36 years conservatively - and I can't imagine prescribing (just) a singular use for one... They're tools, with implements that can serve a number of functions, limited in the end only by their build quality and the ingenuity of the user! I can easily envision how a carpet maker - or any weaver for that matter - might find that stylus useful.

Cheers,
Chris
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Old 15th September 2013, 10:50 PM   #10
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Kudos Chris!

That is absolutely correct. For the life of me, I could never really understand why they were classified as Rug Weaver's tools until I saw a few of these so-called tools. They look somewhat similar, but without the knife and hence I can envision some weaver picking up one of these to use. But rest assured, they are definitely a scribe's tool and hence used for writing. I'll follow up with some illustrations on how they are actually used with pictures. As the old cliche goes, a picture is worth a thousand words!

And to add some more visual, I suggest anyone who wants to know more about Palm Leaf Manuscripts and these knives to watch Dr. Perumal's lecture. He is the one of the foremost expert on these tools and Palm Leaf Manuscripts in India. He heads one of the largest Manuscript Libraries in India. The video is available here on youtube, and yes it is in English :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-paJ1ORCHls

Cheers,

Ram
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Old 16th September 2013, 02:36 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JamesKelly
I see there is writing on my knife. Cleaned the steel just a bit, with bronze wool and Johnson's Paste Wax (I did not want to get oil onto the ivory). It has a decorative silver strip inlaid on the back of both blades.

Ram, can you tell me if this is from mainland India, Sri Lanka, or somewhere else? Any chance the writing is legible? Part is scratched in, the second half looks like connected punch marks. I tried to make it more legible with a charcoal pencil, not much luck.


WOW! That is one beautiful stylus. I wish mine had some inscription on it. I have looked and looked, but couldn't find one. Most of these type of styluses with inscriptions on them were targeted for upper class scribes as the cost was much higher, especially with ivory handles. Interpreting the inscription took a while as some of the characters are different from the ones used today. I would date it to somewhere around the late 1800s to early 1900s based on the script used. Here is what it looks using today's characters:

உறுசெ முரு

It basically translates to "uruce muru". Since the inscription seems to be different between the two words, I think the last part was added later. A name perhaps? Not familiar with it at all. I asked the Mrs (she grew up in India and studied there, whereas I am totally American) and she wasn't familiar with the inscription either.

These types of styluses were used in India and Sri Lanka, so it is difficult to pinpoint its exact origin. But the script is Tamil nonetheless.

Cheers & Great Find,

Ram

Last edited by olaicollector : 16th September 2013 at 10:43 AM.
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Old 16th September 2013, 06:01 PM   #12
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A while back, Michael Wood (Monty Python fame) had a PBS series called Story of India. In that segment, they were talking about Palm Leaf Manuscripts and how Indians used them to write. The video is posted below (it is less than 2 minutes long). If you watch, you can see the foldable stylus being used and how letters are inscribed onto the palm leaf. Notice also the "notch" on his left nail. It is used to guide the stylus while he writes. Furthermore, see how he is holding the stylus. This is so that pressure is added to the stylus and thus aiding in the writing process.

http://www.pbs.org/thestoryofindia/...leaf_manuscript

Cheers,

Ram

Last edited by olaicollector : 17th September 2013 at 03:49 PM.
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Old 16th September 2013, 06:51 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by olaicollector
A while back, Michael Wood (Monty Python fame) had a PBS series called Story of India...


Hi Ram,

LoL... I think you might have confused Michael Wood - British historian, broadcaster and host of that incredible documentary series - with former Monty Python member Michael Palin, who does indeed host his own travel show...

BTW, for anyone with even so much as a passing interest in the Indian subcontinent or even history in general, The Story of India is a "must see."

Cheers,
Chris
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Old 16th September 2013, 07:50 PM   #14
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LOL...Yes, got my Michael mixed up..It is definitely NOT Palin
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Old 18th September 2013, 04:06 PM   #15
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Well my package arrived and I literally got the mother lode! This is going to take some time to classify, take pictures, and analyze. However, there is one little gem that surprised me substantially and pictures are posted. How the hell do you use that as a stylus? Maybe for kids? Reminds me of the days when I used a tiny pencil to write with
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