Archive for the ‘Stationery’ 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.


Latest windows: The Year of the Dragon

January 24, 2012

We’re celebrating the Year of the Dragon this week with a new window display reflecting two new correspondence card motifs designed especially for Chinese New Year.

How will you be celebrating? Check out our guest blogger, Susie Lau’s recipe for a traditional Chinese New Year treat

Thank You on Paper

December 19, 2011

From her consultation in our New Bond Street salon to witnessing the traditional printing process at our Wiltshire factory, Susie Lau follows the progress of her very own set of bespoke stationery

Fashion does perversely honour tradition in unexpected ways.  One of the quirks of the industry is the abundance of thank you notes that go back and forth. In just one week, I’ve received three notes in the post and incidentally, they’ve all been printed on Smythson stationery.   I put this down to the industry’s love of print and the tactability of paper, which Smythson have a rich history in providing.   There’s something truly lovely about receiving a handwritten note in the post that is infinitely more intimate than a quickfire email.

That said, it’s taken me up till now to gather up the resources to make up my own correspondence cards.  It could be my insanely illegible handwriting that has stopped me from getting my first proper set of stationery done.  I’ll have to take the chance that people out there will somehow be able to decipher my scribble.  Plus I now have a legitimate excuse to use the insanely cute coloured pens I’ve picked up from my travels to Tokyo to write on these cards.

Smythson’s stationery salon is a quiet haven of rustling cards, tissue paper inlays and lovely die-stamped letters and a bulging catalogue of motifs for you to choose to head up your cards or stamp your envelopes with.  I settled for a grey border, grey tissue lining and pink text and motif combination, clashing the sensible and the frivolous.

I did resist the urge to go for a motif that was ultra literal and slightly cheesy….

Instead, I chose a camera motif, which wasn’t actually in the catalogue but was a never-before used motif from the archive.

I was then lucky enough to visit Smythson’s factory in Wiltshire where decades-old machinery have been printing their stationery for years with the traditional methods of copperplate printing.

A negative image is put through a copper plate etching machine to achieve the final plate that will be used in the printing press, a process that has thankfully been speeded up but would have taken hours to achieve just one plate, when done by hand in the past…

The plate is then loaded into the printing press and once the rollers are inked up, each piece of paper or envelope is individually placed there and stamped with the motif or text.  It’s an eye bogglingly manual process, one that requires a knack of timing and an in-depth knowledge for how the machines are run.

We then moved on to the section where borders and gilding of card edges are done.  It’s another highly skilled manual process that isn’t governed by science but by simply knowing by eye, how the paint or gold/silver leaf will hit the card.

The application of this gold leaf on to the edge of these cards was pretty stunning to watch….

Then I watched my set of cards get their grey borders and was amazed at how evenly spaced the cards were in order to be sprayed with precision…

Even the envelopes were made up by hand with the all over tissue lining being something of a Smythson signature.  I had a go at gluing together a few of them but I don’t think I got the full hang of it.  Hopefully nobody actually receives my duff envelope in their stationery set…

We then went into the finishing room to see some Christmas cards being packaged up ready to go out, which reminds me that I’m woefully late with my own Christmas stationery.

Smythson keeps all their plates archived and never throws them away.  It was pretty special going through the ‘Celebrities’ drawer stuffed full of luminaries’ names…

My Smythson Stationery journey ends with these familiar blue boxes.  I’ve not yet sent one out yet but after my birthday and the Christmas period of December, I’m sure these will be winging their way, complete with my childish scrawl, to some hopefully grateful recipients.

From the Archive: Personalised Stationery – The Smythson Touch

December 12, 2011

Our company archivist, Vicky Britton, explores our heritage in personalised stationery…

From the understated simplicity of the traditional, to the showmanship of the latest style, Smythson have been offering the discerning customer the best in luxury bespoke stationery design for over 100 years.

Colourful Bespoke Die-stamped Christmas Card, 1900

Blind Embossed Bespoke Christmas Card, 1903

Having produced an array of beautiful bespoke greetings cards from the turn of the 20th century, Smythson was soon established as the foremost British stationers, supplying town and country houses across Britain.

Personalised “Bon Voyage” Greeting Card, 1911

During WWI, Smythson’s Marston Mill paper (85gsm/21lbs) was suggested as an ‘ideal weight for letters to the front’ and colourful, hand-crafted greeting cards were produced wishing the recipients positive thoughts for the coming year, despite the prolonged hardships faced by many.

Examples of WWI Bespoke Greeting Cards

During the days of the Empire, Smythson also produced stationery for the Imperial Families of Japan, the Prince of Abyssinia and the Governors of Bengal, Bombay and Madras.

By far the most elaborate stationery was produced during the 1920s and 1930s for the Maharaja of India; hand-bordered paper decorated with personal monograms engraved in gold, silver and rich colours with delicate mother-of-pearl inlay.

Example of personalised stationery made using rich, die-stamped colours and mother-of-pearl inlay, 1920s-1930s

One of the most cherished pieces in our archive is a bespoke cocktail invitation produced for the Maharaja of Jodhpur in 1932, featuring the Maharaja’s ornate crest, hand-engraved with an early aeroplane.

Gold-stamped cocktail invitation produced for the Maharaja of Jodhpur, 1932

This elaborate stationery has continued to impress and inspire, with many notable VIPs taking inspiration from the quality and design of these old pieces when designing their own bespoke stationery.

Find out more about ordering your own personalised stationery here.

In Conversation with Susie Lau…

October 27, 2011

What is the secret of a good blog?

Finding an original voice and saying something fresh. It’s such a crowded sphere and it’s really hard to make yourself heard. I’m lucky that I started quite early.

You began your blog in 2006. Why?

There’s no exciting answer. Purely out of boredom. At the time I was doing a pretty dull job that wasn’t very stimulating. I just wanted something on the side to keep up my interest in fashion. For me it was always a hobby. I did the blog for a long time with a full-time job. Susie Bubble was a nickname I’ve had since primary school that just stuck.

You were among the first wave of fashion bloggers to post photographs of yourself online. Why?

Purely to illustrate what I was talking about. So much of what I was writing was about my personal experience of fashion. I’ve always had a great interest in expressing your personality through what you wear: putting your money where your mouth is, wearing what you advocate. At this point I was using a point and shoot, photographing myself in the mirror, and then I started using a tripod. Finally I got a boyfriend, who is fortunately an obliging photographer. There is an in-joke: that all fashion bloggers need a boyfriend to facilitate their success.

What blogs do you read every day without fail?

I read The Coveted and Park & Cube. I have 400 or so. I read all the news sites first: On the Runway, T Magazine and Vogue, then personal blogs like Jak & Jill and Kingdom of Style. I like looking at new ones too.

Your name is synonymous with new media. Do you ever write with a pen and paper?

My earliest memories are of writing on paper. Now it’s something that I reserve for a handful of people. I’m not on Facebook so I write to people in Hong Kong, where my parents are from, using stationery.

People in the fashion industry  seem to have a particular affinity with stationery. Why?

I think it’s inherent in people who consume fashion media—we have an attraction to the tactile nature of printed stuff and stationery is of course one of them. You can have so many variations and the colours of the paper or the font can really say something.

Do you have a favourite Smythson product?

I like the camera cases. I used to go in the store and eye them up, and now I’ve finally got one in pink. I like anything that resembles a secret box: there could be anything inside.

Images courtesy of Nigel Shafran

The Peacock Room: Our latest window inspiration

October 7, 2011

Our latest window display features new autumn/winter Lapis and Peridot collections against a backdrop of bespoke, hand-painted wallpaper created in collaboration with de Gournay.

Visual Merchandiser Marco gives us an insight into the concept behind the display:

“The inspiration for this scheme was drawn from the product itself, with the rich colours recalling the art deco era and the idea of universal beauty and aestheticism.

Created for us by de Gournay, featuring intricately hand-painted gold peacocks, the ornate, Chinoiserie-style wallpaper reflects the jewel-like opulence of our new collections (as well as our beautiful new season stationery motifs) and was inspired by the Peacock Room, an early art-nouveau “hidden pearl”, created by American, British-based artist James Whistler for the Kensington House of his patron, Frederick Leyland in 1887.

The Peacock Room is considered to be an art-deco masterpiece and one of the first examples of Anglo-Oriental art.  A celebrated attraction, it has been acquired by many galleries and museums over the years and is now installed at the The Arthur M. Sackler and Freer Gallery of Art: the National Museums of Asian Art, in Washington DC.  Find out more at

de Gournay produces the finest, hand-painted wallpaper and traditionally specialises in 18th century Chinoiserie and nineteenth century French designs.

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.’

A New Spot in Harrods…

May 26, 2011

We are very excited to have moved to a brand new location  in Harrods which offers our bespoke stationery service.  Located on the lower ground floor in Stationery and Gifts, we hope you will come and pay us a visit soon …

Did you know…?

March 29, 2011

As wedding fever reaches its peak, Vicky Britton, our company archivist, has been delving into the Smythson Archive and charting our long-established heritage in stationery and wedding invitations.  She’ll be sharing some interesting facts with us over the next few weeks…

This week, ahead of tomorrow’s Mother’s Day event, she tells us about a Smythson staple, tissue-lined envelopes:



An invitation to a special Mother’s Day event at our New Bond Street store…

March 24, 2011

Exquisite, hand-lined tissue-envelopes are synonymous with Smythson,  so we thought we’d make our Mother’s Day cards extra-special by inviting one of our expert stationery artisans to our New Bond Street store next Wednesday 30th and Thursday 31st of March,  to demonstrate  the skilled craftsmanship involved in the creation of each hand-lined tissue envelope.

We’ll also welcome back Craig-Poland Smith of Royal Warrant-holding London Scribes, who will be on-hand to beautifully hand script a complimentary message of your choice into any of our exquisite die-stamped Mother’s Day cards…