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Emma John­son meets Bri­tish sta­tionery brands still en­cour­ag­ing us to put pen to pa­per.

THE HEAVY WEIGHT of a pen, the feel of smooth, thick pa­per, the smell of rich leather, the dark splash of ink – as our world gets more and more dig­i­tal, it seems the de­sire to write things down, sign our names, put our thoughts in a jour­nal and share our ideas hasn’t been lost. The Bri­tish sta­tionery in­dus­try has per­haps al­ways been a rel­a­tively ar­ti­san one, fo­cus­ing on passed-down skills and tra­di­tional ap­proaches, but it seems that this de­sire for beau­ti­ful things in which to im­part our thoughts, record our day to day ac­tiv­i­ties or to in­vite loved ones to a party re­mains at the cen­tre of the Bri­tish way of life. “As a coun­try we have many tra­di­tions that are ad­mired around the world, and sta­tionery is def­i­nitely amongst them,” says Alex, from Mount Street Print­ers, who have pro­duced beau­ti­ful per­son­alised sta­tionery in the heart of May­fair for al­most 40 years. “En­graved sta­tionery pro­duc­tion has al­most dis­ap­peared from con­ti­nen­tal Europe, but con­tin­ues to thrive in the UK, which is great for our coun­try,” he adds. Mount Street Print­ers, which now of­fers ev­ery­thing from en­grav­ing to fast dig­i­tal print­ing, has oc­cu­pied the same site at 4 Mount Street since it opened, and has been suc­cess­ful in part due to its com­mit­ment to em­brac­ing new tech­nol­ogy while still work­ing with tra­di­tional crafts­man­ship. Alex ex­plains that it is tra­di­tional ap­proaches to writ­ing and the crafts of per­son­al­i­sa­tion which have pro­tected the in­dus­try against the on­slaught of mod­erni­sa­tion and con­sumerism: “I think, for in­stance, that The Royal Fam­ily have been in­cred­i­bly sup­port­ive of tra­di­tional skills and pro­cesses through­out the UK, which has been so ben­e­fi­cial. It has en­abled all kinds of crafts­men to thrive and be recog­nised for their work whilst con­tin­u­ing to pro­duce the finest goods that are eco­nom­i­cally vi­able.” And it is this ap­proach that has had an im­pact felt through­out the in­dus­try.


At G.F. Smith, where for over 130 years beau­ti­ful pa­per has been pro­duced in the same Hull fac­tory, the brand is still lead­ing the charge for prod­ucts made with a com­bi­na­tion of so­phis­ti­cated ma­chin­ery and hand­crafted skills. Started by Ge­orge Fred­er­ick Smith in 1885, the com­pany be­came recog­nised as one of the great in­no­va­tors in pa­per, and is estab­lished as the sup­plier of choice for creative and de­sign in­dus­tries in Bri­tain and be­yond. Color­plan – G.F. Smith’s pi­o­neer­ing range of coloured pa­pers – has been an iconic and in­dis­pens­able re­source for de­sign­ers since it was launched in 1936, and its range con­tin­ues to defy ex­pec­ta­tions – both with its depth and scope of colours, but also its ap­proach to pre­serv­ing and sup­port­ing hand­made skills, such as spine stitch­ing and pa­per sourc­ing.

As a coun­try we have many tra­di­tions that are ad­mired around the world, and sta­tionery is def­i­nitely amongst them”


For beau­ti­ful fountain pens, roller balls and me­chan­i­cal pen­cils, Bri­tish en­gi­neer­ing has again been at the fore­front of the in­dus­try, with the likes of Yard O Led, Con­way Ste­wart, Burn­ham and Sigma all im­por­tant names when it comes to writ­ing in­stru­ments. Sit­u­ated in Spencer Street in Birm­ing­ham, in the heart of the jew­ellery quar­ter, and hand­crafted in Eng­land since 1934, pens from Yard O Led are slim, del­i­cate pieces with in­tri­cate fil­i­gree en­grav­ings, and the brand has re­tained its vin­tage feel with pens that are clas­sic and col­lectable. For artists ma­te­ri­als, there can per­haps be no more well-known name than Der­went, who have been sup­ply­ing cre­atives with high qual­ity artist pen­cils, wa­ter­colour pen­cils and a wide range of sup­port­ing ma­te­ri­als for artists since 1832. Its renowned Pen­cil Mu­seum still stands on the site of the orig­i­nal fac­tory in Keswick, in the the Lake Dis­trict, while it has main­tained Cum­brian roots, build­ing a pur­pose-built fac­tory in Lil­ly­hall in 2008. At the more modern end of the spec­trum, plenty of de­signer brands have moved into writ­ing in­stru­ments, of­ten tar­get­ing the busi­ness sec­tor with style-fo­cused pens and pen­cils, de­signed to make a real im­pres­sion in the board­room. From Aspinal of Lon­don to Dun­hill and Ted Baker, de­signer pens are mak­ing a name for them­selves, while new brands who spe­cialise in pens are also be­com­ing more pop­u­lar. The in­trigu­ingly-named Ajoto – which comes from a Ja­panese word mean­ing su­perla­tive lux­ury – for in­stance, de­signs all its pens at its ded­i­cated fac­tory in Manch­ester and is renowned for its smooth, fuss-free ta­pered de­sign.


Per­haps one of the fore­most names in Bri­tish sta­tionery has to be Smyth­son of Bond Street, who still make and pro­duce all their sta­tionery in Bri­tain. Hav­ing cre­ated the first por­ta­ble di­ary back in 1908, which be­came known as ‘the Panama hat of books,’ the brand has stayed true to its roots, still pro­duc­ing its ‘Panama Di­ary’ to this day, but adding to its col­lec­tion with a host of other leather­bound note­books and di­aries, as well as note­cards, en­velopes, pens and pa­per. In ad­di­tion, it is still a go-to for much of Bri­tish high so­ci­ety for its per­son­alised, be­spoke sta­tionery ser­vice, from clas­sic, stamped ini­tials, busi­ness cards and per­son­ally de­signed mo­tifs stamped in gold or sil­ver leaf, to a full wed­ding in­vi­ta­tion and sta­tionery de­sign ser­vice, much of its work pro­duced us­ing ar­ti­san skills from years ago. Else­where, in­no­va­tion comes from the past and the present. Lux­ury leather brand Jar­dine of Lon­don, has re­cently launched a range of beau­ti­ful leather­bound jour­nals, fea­tur­ing the dis­tinc­tive Jar­dine star, which comes from the Jar­dine Star Brooch, be­queathed to Queen Eliz­a­beth II in 1981 by Lady Jar­dine; while Leather­smith of Lon­don have been man­u­fac­tur­ing qual­ity leather­bound books, di­aries, leather gifts and ac­ces­sories in Eng­land since 1839 – each book hand­crafted and bound in its bindery in Es­sex, us­ing gen­uine leather and Azure pa­per. And, at Bound by Hand, fine leather wed­ding-guest books, note­books, mem­ory books and jour­nals are all de­signed and hand­made in a Devon stu­dio.

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