Delving into Smythson’s archive material is a potent reminder of gentler times, when a Christmas card would contain messages such as “May Christmas bring you many a kiss and never a tear or a sigh”. I’m not personally one to go riding waves of nostalgia, but it is lovely to know that such a time existed when you’d wish for someone that they never experience tears or sighing without a shade of irony.
I also love a time when invitations to a dinner party or a wedding were incredibly small, with this specimen here on the left measuring about 7cm x 5cm.
The Smythson story is a simple one that started in 1887 when Frank Smythson opened his first shop at 133 New Bond Street. Initially, Smythson worked in the silversmith trade but turned his hand to luxury stationery for the well-to-do. The well-kept scrap books reveal a fastidious character, with every Smythson bit of memorabilia preserved and neatly organised.
The more interesting thing about Smythson was that whilst they primarily made stationery, they also offered other little trinkets that ranged from the conventional to the very quirky indeed.
A “Victoria” housewife’s kit is nothing out of the norm of the early 20th century.
However a sardine/sandwich server and a suffragette-themed novelty pepper dispenser are the slightly odder offerings from this book of presents.
Smythson’s handiwork can really be seen in the stationery that was created for the Indian Maharajas during the early 20th century. I especially love the mother of pearl surfaces that can be seen in the embossed emblems.
I had to chuckle at the sheer frivolity of this card which invited people to fly to the Prince of Jodhpur’s sherry and cocktails ‘do.
I copped a feel of the first ever Smythson ‘Panama’ diary, created in 1908 which was a real innovation of Frank Smythson because of the super thin paper used as well as the flexible lambskin used for the cover.
These bijoux sized notepads continued on into the 1920s and spawned some really fascinating gender-aimed notebooks. There’s some vaguely sound advice in both books. For instance, a man is told to “Choose a woman with your ears not your eyes” and women are reassured that “He is a fool who thinks by force or skill, To turn the current of a woman’s will.” It’s difficult not to be charmed by the quaint aspect of these notebooks.