Dear Helaine and Joe:
We inherited this piece from a family member. We believe it is some sort of incense burner used for religious ceremonies. The longer shaft is 9¼ inches in length and is hollow inside as if it were meant to hold matches, but there is no area on which to strike a match. The bowl has a hinged top with metal rings. It appears to be brass, but one friend thinks it might be gold (we wish!). Any information would be appreciated.
B.F., Hot Springs Village, Arkansas
Excellent guess, but it is way off the mark.
An incense burner used for religious ceremonies is a romantic notion, but in a way, the real use for the piece may be even more romantic and perhaps more exotic.
But like everyone else, these people have business to transact and/or letters to write to loved ones in distant locales. Into this setting comes a traveling Islamic scribe who earns his living reading and writing letters and documents for those who cannot do it for themselves.
In his sash, this scribe carries a case like the one in today’s question. Inside the long, rectangular tubelike box are pens, while the smaller squarish covered box with the hinged lid contains ink. The scribe sits, and the villagers come to him to write their letters and documents. And in return, the scribe receives a small fee.