Thursday, 20 June 2013

From Moscow with Love: The Muir & Mirrelees Pen Nib

It took Palimpsest some time, dear Readers, to decipher the inscription on the old nib. The inscription was in Russian and half-tarnished. Google Translate was not very helpful and apart from пєро which means nib the rest of the Cyrillic letters produced unintelligible translations. With some experimentation however Palimpsest struck gold. Мюр и Мерилиз  stands for Muir and Mirrelees, and Muir and Mirrelees (or Meriliz) is none other than the famous Moscow department store which bore the name of the two Scottish merchants in the last years of the 19th century. 

The Oxford Dictionary informs that Archibald Mirrielees was born in Aberdeen in 1787 and went out to St Petersburg from London in 1822 where he founded an importing business. He married fellow merchant's Andrew Muir's sister in 1844 and it was Andrew who took over the business upon Archibald's retirement in 1857. Archibald died in 1877 and Andrew in 1899 but the business expanded. In the 1880s from wholesale they moved to retail and the brothers' successors founded Russia's first department store under the name Muir and Mirrielees. 

The original building burnt down in 1900 but in its place a new one was erected. It was designed by Russian architect Roman Klein in the European Gothic style and became the place to go shopping for the upper and middle classes. The store had a catalogue and sold anything from furniture and clothing to perfume and toys. And of course it stocked pen nibs inscribed with its own name. 

Among the personalities that went shopping in Muir & Mirrelees were Anton Checkov and Boris Pasternak. Did they buy some of the nibs? We will probably never know. Andrew Muir eventually retired to London's Holland Park and founded the London Portland Cement Company. The company was passed on to his stepson Walter Philip who reportedly had to subsist on his former employees' charity when the department store was nationalised in the wake of the Russian Revolution and the company's assets confiscated. 

The Muir nib eventually found its way to Palimpsest's shop, Inklinks, where it is offered for sale once more.


  1. The writing on the nib perhaps is "Перо для училища", which means "Nib for school".

  2. Thank you for this. I see you are fluent in Russian :)

  3. Thanks for contributing, Anonymous. Those Petrovka Street photos gave me a moment's forehead-slapping. Why, I wondered, did they look as though they could have been taken in the Buffalo, Cleveland, or Chicago of the same period? Relative commonality of architectural education seemed to me a reasonable and pretty obvious explanation.

  4. Sorry, my post directly above. Jack/USA