Some of the tools and materials necessary for preparing husn-i hat works of art come from outside of Istanbul, although most of them are “locally” manufactured in the city. As an overview, we can mention the following items.
Kalem (Pen): The reeds that grew in the lakes and rivers around Istanbul were not appropriate for making the reed pens for calligraphy. The best reeds were grown in reed beds in dry areas and had to undergo a drying process (Picture 1). However, for jali calligraphy, wooden pens processed in a wood turning machine were made in Istanbul.
Paper: Paper was imported to Istanbul from Oriental countries, as well as from Italy. This paper was colored by dipping it into a trough filled with boiling water and a material that served as a dye, such as tea, onion skins, or fresh walnut shells. The pieces of paper then underwent a process known as aharlamak (sealing) with flour, starch, alum or egg white. Then, an ahar (topcoat) layer sealed the paper; this was applied with a burnishing tool (Picture 2) by a mühreciler in the Kağıtçılar Bazaar in the Vezneciler neighborhood of Istanbul. From the eighteenth century on, paper was domestically manufactured in Yalakabad (Yalova), Kağıthane and Beykoz, although sometimes it was necessary to import it from Europe.
İs (Soot) Ink: Soot, the main ingredient of this type of ink, was preparing in a process dating back to the Byzantine era by burning linseed oil, beeswax, turpentine oil, and gas oil in ishane in Tekfur Palace, located between Edirnekapı and Ayvansaray. This product was sold to ink sellers in Vezneciler. They finished ink-making process by grinding it up with a gum Arabic solution and other materials.
Colored Inks: Apart from is (soot) ink, there was the white üstübeç ink. Surh ink, prepared with zencefre (natural mercuric sulfide), was used for the tevakkuf markers, which were traditionally colored red and were manufactured in Istanbul. However, la’l ink, made of dried cochineal, which was imported from India, was not used to make copies of the Qur’an, probably as it could only be manufactured by killing a living creature.
Gold Leaf: Pounded between thin membranes with special hammers by the gold leaf makers, high carat gold leaf is a local product of Istanbul. Gold leaf was used to create the calligraphy on the plaster walls and domes of mosques, on large plaques that were removed from their frames with chalk-dust (silkelenmiş plaques), which were dyed in dark colors (black, dark green, carmine, dark blue…) and adhered with a glue known as lika (miksiyon).
Gold powder, produced by crushing and diluting gold leaf with gum Arabic or honey, was frequently used in Istanbul to make the silkelenmiş calligraphy pieces, mentioned above. The plaques processed with this method were known as zer-endud (Picture 30, 39, 40)
Pencil Sharpener: The best pencil sharpeners, used for maintaining the point on the re-usable reed pens, were made in Istanbul. The tîg/namlu (point/barrel) of the sharpener was made of twice-fired steel, and the handle would be covered with coral, ivory, rosewood, mother-of-pearl, or gold-plated steel to increase the material value. Experts in making pencil sharpeners worked in the Grand Bazaar and Galata.
Makta: The makta, a tool to maintain the sharpness of the point of the calligraphy pen, was used to carry out the processes of sharpening, known as katt and şakk; these were of great value and were manufactured by the Mevlevi dervishes with an ivory jigsaw and jackknife. This was particularly true in the mevlevihanes during the nineteenth century. However, the makta made from Red Sea mother-of-pearl came from Jerusalem, and hence they were known as “Jerusalem work.”
The craftsmen who made pencil sharpeners, makta and ink were first trained in their craft; after finishing their apprenticeship, they would undergo a ceremony in which a peştemal (traditional cloth) wrapped around their waists as an indication that they were now experts. This practice has allowed us to understand who made these tools and where these master craftsmen were from.
Kubur(Inkwell): The calligraphers who had no fixed workshop for creating their husn-i hat works would take with them a prismatic inkwell; this was usually made out of silver with an ink pot. The ink wells were most often made of metals such as brass or nickel; the name kubur is derived from the cylindrical shape. The pot and rıhdan, which used to pour sand, were attached to the body of the inkwell, at the top and bottom, respectively. The district of Divitçiler in Zeynepkamil (Üsküdar) is known to be the manufacturing location of the kubur.
Pen Holder: Pen holders which contained inkpots and which had covers were used by calligraphers working in a studio (Picture 4). The calligraphers put the calligraphy materials in this pen holder, the inner part of which was designed to consist of a few layers. The large, flared drawers were known as pen drawers. The pen holder was a joint product of master carpenters and rugani masters. However, the manufacturing location of the pen holders in Istanbul has not yet been discovered. Impressive examples of the kubur, from patent leather of ivory, were prepared as Istanbul work.
Zermühre: When making the zer-endud style of calligraphy, which used powdered gold, the dull letters needed to be polished. A zermühre, which had a polished rock, such as a Süleymaniye rock or onyx, at one end was used to do this. This was the other product locally produced in İstanbul.
Paper Scissors: In order to prevent wastage, paper scissors were designed with long blades. They were made from gold-plated steel in Ottoman cities such as Sivas and Prizren, and the name of the person who had ordered the scissors, or Ya Fettah, one of the Esma-i Hüsna would be engraved on the handles.
Mıstar: The mıstar was used to mark out the lines and spaces in manuscripts, particularly in copies of the Qur’an. The mıstar would be prepared by stretching silken threads over the stiff paper to be used for the calligraphy; every calligrapher would prepare their own mıstar, and this was an instrument produced in Istanbul.
As can be seen, tools that laid the foundations of the art of calligraphy led to the development of a sub-industry in Istanbul, and helped this industry to continue for hundreds of years.