Archive for the ‘Heritage’ Category

Susie Lau: Delving into Smythson’s Archives

April 2, 2012

As our heritage timeline launches on Facebook, we open up the Smythson archives to guest blogger Susie Lau of Style Bubble

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.

Jewellery seems like a natural link to Frank Smythson’s silversmith beginnings.

A combined bag, hand muff and cushion looks like a product worth reviving today.

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.


Susie’s Valentine: Amour Sans Fin

February 7, 2012

Guest blogger Susie Lau gives her take on the limited edition Valentine’s range and explores the inspiration behind it, our company archive…

Valentine’s Day is a double headache for me as my other half’s birthday also happens to fall on the same day.  Is it Valentine’s Day or Birthday first?  I’ve normally gone for the latter given that the day your significant other was born is ever so slightly more important than a holiday honouring a Christain saint.

Still, I can be persuaded otherwise to switch allegiance over to V-day especially after investigating the new Valentine’s collection by Smythson.  Entitled “Love Through the Ages”, the collection is inspired by a page from this early 1900s Smythson catalogue.  I was surprised to discover that the Smythson product range back then was curiously expansive – everything from bronze statues of cockerels to handbags to jewellery were available to the Smythson customer.

A page of motto charms was where Smythson found the words “Amour Sans Fin” which now graces a gold charm that comes with all nine pieces from the classic red lizard print leather range.

I especially love this photo envelope which is a beautiful way of holding treasured prints.   The idea of an envelope clutch purely for the purpose of holding a photo or two is a decadent one but I suppose it is all part of the indulgent spirit of the holiday.

Ditto for this sweet little trinket box which comes with a chocolate leather heart nestled inside.  It’s not edible but it can be stamped with the message of your choice.  Again the singular purpose of this trinket box is pretty hard to resist but it’s the dinky size that really is the winning plus point.

There are some truly horrific Valentine’s cards about, the sort that are so cringeworthy, you can’t imagine actually giving it to someone you liked, let alone your most beloved.

The designs here feature a subtle print of a sonnet, a tiny love bug and the word LOVE spelt out in semaphore code figures.  In fact that last one is about as cryptic as you can get.

Going back to the Smythson archives, there were a few choice items that could potentially be up for a modern day revival when V-day comes around again next year.  This teensy tiny calendar from 1942 for a lady’s purse is positively lilliputian.

I loved this dotty product range seen in another catalogue which happens to be a V-day appropriate shade of red.

I’ll be delving further into the archives next, where I discover more about Mr Frank Smythson’s scarily neat handwriting, decadent invites from Maharajas and the beginnings of the classic Wafer diary.

The 1908 Smythson Pocket Diary

January 11, 2012

Happy New Year! Will you be starting 2012 with a new Smythson diary? Did you know – first introduced in 1908, our now iconic Panama diary (then known as the “Featherweight”) was specifically designed to fit a gentleman’s inside jacket pocket.

In 1924, the Wafer diary was created as a lady’s alternative to the “Featherweight”, designed to fit into a small handbag…

From the Archive… Dear Diary

November 11, 2011

Our company archivist, Vicky Britton, gives a brief history of the Smythson diary…

2012 is set to be a big year with the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics and Smythson celebrating our 125th anniversary. 125 years of innovative design and quality craftsmanship, and our diaries have formed a major part of that heritage since Frank Smythson first opened his store in 1887.

A visit to the museum at our flagship store on New Bond Street brings the history behind the Smythson diary to life, where our current ‘Dear Diary’ exhibition showcases our rich heritage and offers a chance to see some of our very early beautiful diaries, including the whimsical ‘A Mere Man’s Calendar’, first printed in 1912.

Here is a closer look at 3 founding members of the Smythson diary family…

The Royal Court Diary is the longest running diary in the range. This classic, hardbound book was one of the first Smythson diaries to be published and featured on the company’s first advertisement card.

Smythson Archive Product - 1901 Royal Court Title Page

Printed on white wove paper, its day-per-page layout offers ample room for jotting down important daily commitments. The Royal Court Diary has remained largely unchanged throughout its 125 years of production.

The quietly sophisticated Panama Diary is without doubt one of Smythson’s most iconic products. It was created in 1908 by Frank Smythson who made the world’s first truly portable diary.

Smythson Archive Product - 1908 Featherweight Diary

Originally called the Featherweight Diary, its creation was a bold move and revolutionised the way in which people used their diaries. Using a navy blue, supple leather binding and a lightweight, pale blue paper – half the thickness and weight as normally used – this new pocket-sized diary was specifically designed to fit into the inside pocket of a gentleman’s jacket.

The elegant Wafer Diary was first designed in 1924. It was (and still is) identical in content and layout to the Featherweight Diary but designed as a much smaller version for ladies – small enough to fit inside the handbag. With added details such as a miniature pencil and tuck fastening, this little diary was the height of fashionable sophistication.

From the Smythson Archive - 1924 Wafer Diary in Leather Wallet

The Smythson diary family is now bigger than ever, with a size, layout and colour to suit every customer. From traditional, understated and essential pocket diaries to seasonal Fashion and Soho diaries with beautiful jewel closures, the Smythson diary has evolved from utilitarian necessity to must-have fashion accessory, while striking a perfect balance between form and function.

What do you love about your Smythson diary?

Our ‘Dear Diary’ exhibition will be on at our New Bond Street store until January, 2012.

From the Archive… Around the World in Smythson Style

August 1, 2011

Quintessentially quirky or indispensably informative, Smythson has been creating an array of travel products for the discerning customer since opening our doors in 1887. From the days of the Empire and the great tours of Europe at the turn of the century, Smythson has offered travellers the best in luxury and practicality combined.

Early archive catalogues illustrate a strong emphasis on novelty and innovation in our travel goods range with everything from maps and foot rests for the automobile to portable barometers, compasses and reliable damp protectors for travel and tourists.

Quickly developing the range, Frank Smythson introduced the Monitor Bag in 1905. It was designed specifically for travel and advertised as ‘the most convenient of all bags for the carriage of for travelling’.

The iconic Featherweight diary of 1908 added further to Smythson’s leadership on all things travel by providing indispensible information on world travel and currency. Customers were told:

A passport is necessary for Austria, Egypt, Greece, Portugal, Russia and Turkey, and is occasionally demanded in Germany and Spain. Travellers intending to visit Russia are advised to have their passport visé in England before starting.

Motor mascots, travel cushions or luggage cases… those wishing to travel in style could always find a product to suit them at Smythson. During both world wars, products were designed and adapted to suit the changing world, with portable options of Smythson classics being offered. The Roxboro’ Writing Attaché and the En Route Writing Pad were perfect examples of Smythson’s innovative thinking and they were quickly followed by a selection of small leather goods all with the modern traveller in mind.

Smythson continue to produce exquisitely designed, durable leather travel goods today providing the ultimate in stylish organisation in transit. The Smythson Passport Cover, in particular, has become a must-have item for regular travellers, and the Slim Travel Wallet, introduced in the mid-1990s, was designed to make the process of checking in and boarding as hassle free as possible. The fact that as well as being practical and durable our travel products are also offered in covetable colours and a variety of leather finishes makes them unequivocally Smythson.

From the Archive: A Friday Fairtytale…

June 17, 2011

Vicky, our company archivist, shares some secrets from our archive.  Look out for more heritage blogs every month!

In June 1933, Smythson produced some beautiful, hand-bordered bespoke stationery with die-stamping detail for a very special customer… Queen Titania of Fairy Land.

Queen Titania lived in her fairytale dollhouse palace built by Sir Nevile Wilkinson, who was a British army officer and dollhouse designer. His daughter Gwendolen had asked him to build a fine house for the little fairies she’d seen in the garden. She was concerned that they were forced to live outside and so wanted her father to build them a grand home fit for a queen. Sir Wilkinson started making the dollhouse in 1907 and it took him many years to build; Gwendolen was an adult by the time he completed it. It is now exhibited all over the world.

Everything in it, although miniature, was of the highest quality, and so it stands to reason that Smythson should be commissioned to produce a tiny set of paper and envelopes for the royal palace. The work was greatly admired by all who saw it, even leading one customer from Liverpool to enquire as to whether he could purchase some of the tiny stationery for his collection of miniature articles. He wrote, ‘Yesterday I saw Titania’s palace – I thought one of the most wonderful things in it was your delightful packet of notepaper and envelopes.’

The following amusing letter of thanks, dated 9 June 1933 from the Private Secretary to Fairy Land can be found in the Smythson Archive. It reads:

‘Dear Mr Smythson,

I am commanded by Her Iridescence to thank you most warmly for the charming note paper and envelopes you have kindly sent for The Palace. She is delighted with it and considers it correct in colour, shape, stamping and size.

I am to add that Queen Titania has given her royal command that Smythson Ltd of Bond Street shall be granted the warrant of appointment to her Iridescent Titania by cheerful consent, Queen of all the fairies, pixies and gnomes. And has instructed the Clerk of the Crystal to the appointment in Court Gazette of Fairy Land.’

Ralph Smythson responded on 12 June 1933:

‘We beg to thank you for your letter of the 9th and we appreciate to the full the appointment so graciously given to us by Her Iridescence Queen Titania of Fairy Land. We are glad that our efforts met with Her Majesty’s pleasure and we shall be at all times glad to attend to any future commands from the palace.’

From the Museum…

April 12, 2011

Our company archivist, Vicky Britton, reveals a new addition to our Bond Street flagship museum:

Smythson is celebrating our rich heritage in wedding stationery this month and to showcase this we have arranged a special exhibition in our New Bond Street museum.

The display case features a select few pieces from our company archive, including Frank Smythson’s scrapbook, 1887-1915, showing some very early advertisements for ‘first-class, fashionable’ wedding stationery.

The display also gives some interesting snippets of information about how the writing and sending of wedding invitations has changed over the years.

For example, in the days before the postal system the only guaranteed way to deliver a wedding invitation was by hand, usually sent by a hired courier or servant of the family.

Since many of these deliveries would be made by horseback, the double envelope was designed to ensure the invitation reached its destination in impeccable condition.

The outer envelope would be removed and only the clean interior envelope, with invitation inside, would be presented to the master or mistress of the house.

Celebrating Culture & Heritage Week…

June 8, 2010

We are proud to be part of Bond Street’s Culture & Heritage Week 2010 (which takes place all this week), bringing together fashion, jewellery, arts and antiques, in celebration of Bond Street’s unique history.

We will be participating by offering guided tours of our in-store museum, featuring items from our rich and varied archive which dates back to 1887:

A few interesting facts:

– Frank Smythson opened his first shop on 29th September, 1887 at 133 New Bond Street (shown below). The company has since taken up residence in six different New Bond Street premises, most recently 40 New Bond Street, where the store can be found today.

– After World War II, many new customers from abroad only knew Smythson (then at 54 New Bond Street) as ‘the store with the blue glass door’.  Letters addressed to ‘the blue glass door shop, London’ astoundingly found their way to Smythson, examples of which can be found in the archive.

– 2012 will mark Smythson’s 125th birthday.

– The Smythson archive consists of thousands of examples of bespoke stationery, diaries, catalogues, products and customer letters, dating back to the beginning of the 20th century.

– Our archivist is always on the look out for new accessions – email if you have any old Smythson products you wish to donate!

– The Smythson in-store museum at 40 New Bond Street is situated in an octagonal ‘grotto’ room, designed by the architect Raymond Erith.  Conceived on Italianate lines, it is said to have been inspired by a similar interior at Rome’s Villa d’Este.  40 New Bond Street is a grade II listed building due, in large part, to this special ‘grotto’ room.


We look forward to seeing you this week!

The Smythson Archive: Katharine Hepburn

May 12, 2010

Today marks the 103rd birthday of one of America’s most revered actresses, Katharine Hepburn, for which the US Postal Service is launching a commemorative stamp (shown above), available from today.

Winner of a record four Academy Awards as Best Leading Actress (more than any other actor), she  is ranked as the greatest female screen legend of all time by the American Film Institute.

During the 1950s, Hepburn purchased her personal address books from Smythson, including this specially commissioned ‘London California New York’ engraved address book, in which she recorded details of friends such as Sir Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Tony Curtis, Frank Sinatra, Spencer Tracy, Barbara Streisand and Joan Crawford,   a replica of which is displayed in our in-store museums on New Bond Street, London and West 57th Street, New York.

Blue Sky Thinking: Introducing Nile Blue Raffia…

April 23, 2010

Embrace summertime style with our new Nile Blue Raffia collection, first previewed at our spring/summer ’10 press day back in November and now available online. Inspired by the signature Nile Blue shade of our packaging, the collection comprises a new, roomy tote (the perfect summer carry-all), travel clutch and three multi-purpose zip pouches.

All feature textured tones of Nile Blue, navy and pale blue raffia shot with metallic gold thread – inspired by the distinctive gilt edging on our ‘Featherweight’ paper…