Dear Readers, A Primer on Social Stationery

(Vera Wang designed stationery)

The wonderful thing about blogging is that just when you think you’ve answered everyone’s questions, along comes a request for a little more detail. I’m delighted to answer the following email.

You’ve blogged in the past about the art of writing letters. I’d love to see a post on the proper collection of stationery for gentlemen. Engraved vs. thermographed, types of paper, fonts, colors, sizes of paper, recommended vendors, etc.
Thank you.

Stationery is a very personal thing, and while there were firm rules in the past governing its use, today we are a bit more lax. I think that everyone should have a calling card (name and home city, everything else can be filled in by hand as needed), and a set of correspondence cards at the least.

I write notes for the most part. The smaller size of the card makes it easier to write a thank you without feeling as if you’re beginning a novel, as I sometimes do when faced with a sheet of paper. That said, ADG has a lovely sheet with his monogram. The monarch sheet is slightly smaller than the standard 8 1/2 X 11″ sheet and his flamboyant hand fills the page nicely. I bet a handwriting analyst would tell you he’s a creative. Mrs. PvE’s note cards make you want to sing and Meg of Pigtown-Design is always appropriate and tasteful.

You know how you write. Choose a sheet that will allow you to dash off a note in a comfortable script without crowding the page. Here is a complete list of the types of women’s papers for your consideration. And the same for the men. Choose 100% cotton paper. I prefer a laid or plain weave instead of something textured like linen. But that’s just me.

The weight of your stationery cards or sheets is dictated by your means and tastes. Our correspondence cards are very thick as is my calling card (I ask for triple thick calling/business cards that clatter when the hit the desktop). They feel substantial in the envelope and in your hand. The standard is about 32 lb. for paper and the cards are a bit heavier.

On to the cosmetics. White or off-white? It’s up to you. I prefer a light ivory or eggshell, the colour of an ancient white dinner jacket, a bit yellowish, a bit tan, no longer white. But I settle for Crane’s stock ecru. My daughter’s is hot pink, my son’s, a royal blue. As far as inks go, the sky’s the limit. With coloured stocks I tend to want to use white ink to engrave or print and sometimes choose a white border. However, my mother’s stationery is a coral with lime green. I suppose it depends on how you will use your stationery. For more serious correspondence or all-around uses, I would stick with the basics. But, if your personality dictates, have more fun. Just be sure to have some plain stock on hand for letters of condolence, instructions to your lawyer or banker, etc. .

As for the monogram or device, with the exception of black bordered “mourning” stationery, which I think should remain strictly for that purpose, almost anything goes. I have a friend with two corgis, one of whom appears in silhouette on his envelope and paper. Mrs. E. and I use a correspondence card, originally intended for communicating with shopkeepers, staff and other assorted vendors, for our “formal” sheet. It is engraved with a device that incorporates our initials in an art deco design. It was handcut in the Crane factory and we love it. The card is a bit informal if you’re playing by the rules, but a bit of informality is OK in my book. They make for a great way to invite a small group to dinner.

Your choice of name, monogram or device is one you should enjoy making. If you’re fortunate enough to live in a named house, the name and city can be very elegant riding atop a creamy sheet. Although they are too young to write proper letters, we had folding cards made for our children. Have artwork done or choose a die that’s already been cut. Our daughter’s sheet features a hare jumping a fence by a brook (it has to do with a family name) that was as stock die at Crane’s. The man responsible for a lot of the improvements you see here on Easy and Elegant Life illustrated an archer for my son’s stationery (again, a family name that he carries). Mrs. PvE did a very elegant watercolour of the Manse that now graces both our dining room wall and the cover of a folded greeting card. Shrinking it an using it at the top of a small sheet would make a very nice addition to the guest room bedside table. If I had a guest room.

There are also numerous online print-on-demand services (we’ve used Vistaprint for party invites) which would allow you to play around with the artwork at very little expense. We keep the return address to the back of the envelope.

Engraving, thermography, printing, laser-ready sheets for the printer, we have a number of choices these days.

I prefer engraving. It is more expensive, but once the plate is made, engraving is about on par with printing. I like to have a creamy stock engraved with a grey flannel coloured ink, sometimes with a border. Blind embossing (engraving without the ink) also feels good in the hand and I always seem to study it more and appreciate it when I open the note.

Thermography was an invention of the 20’s (I believe) and was supposed to replicate the feel of engraving without the expense. As such, it is in my opinion a half measure and I’m not for it. Printing is a more honest option and with the choice of fonts, can be really special. I reserve self-printed business stationery for small business needs. If you’re a graphic artist, yours will look far better and will be a joy to receive.

Letterpress has been making a comeback and is pretty special in that it is a hand done and very old technique. Ink is applied by hand to a raised letter plate and pressed into the paper with a machine, one colour ink at a time.

I mentioned fonts a moment ago. At the core, there are only two kinds of fonts: serif and sans serif.

Easy and Elegant Life is written in Georgia, a serif font that I believe is used by The New Yorker. A man has to dream.

Use your computer and scroll through your choices. Find one that you think is attractive. Trust your taste. Most stationers have the basics already. Or you will have to purchase a font pack and have them use it for your stationery. I bet you’ll find something you like already to go though.

As for vendors, I mentioned above that I use Crane’s (as does Tiffany & Co. if I remember correctly). We have a wonderful shop here in town and Bill and Myra have printed our wedding announcements, “party blanks”, social stationery, business cards, calling cards and the kids’ birth announcements. They also carry Wren Press which has some gorgeous colours. I hear that Mrs. John L. Strong is back in the bespoke business and everyone has very nice things to say about them. This fellow looks amazing, although I haven’t used him and so couldn’t say. I mentioned print-on-demand. These are on-line services that let you upload art and create your own stationery. The paper isn’t that heavy (I always like the heaviest I can get and find 32 lb. a bit too flimsy), but the price is right to experiment, especially if you have an artist friend who can make you a custom design or calligraphed signature flourish. Think of it as budget bespoke.

I hope you’ve found this little missive instructive and helpful.

I remain,

Your Faithful Correspondent,

Chris

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5 Responses to Dear Readers, A Primer on Social Stationery

  1. pve says:

    I love “letterpress” too – and I never seem to tire of using personalized notes.
    pve

  2. Paula says:

    Great tutorial on the art of the hand-written note and selecting paper! God bless us all for writing notes & letters, mailing invitations instead of (ugh!) e-mailing them, and taking the time and trouble to select paper as carefully as one selects home furnishings and wardrobe! If you start young, your children will think it is normal to open a desk drawer and find their paper wardrobe. I had note paper printed for our daughter for use at summer camp, complete with summer camp return address. It is now a great scrapbook item! Please add Dempsey Carroll to your list of fine stationers. Dempsey Carroll is what America should always look like–authentic and tasteful.

  3. Great information! In my attempts to return to a simpler way of living … I have found that letter writing is very much an endangered species. I’m looking forward to dusting off my old writing desk – and setting it up with the appropriate pens, stationary, wax seals etc. Thank you again for such a great post! HHL

  4. Thanks for the mention. I am lucky enough to have a cache of my mother’s stationery with her family’s crest embossed on it.

  5. P-D, that is truly something special.

    HHL, my pleasure. And good for you!

    Mrs. PvE, those of yours are spectacular.

    Paula, what a great idea!

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