handwritten sentiments

Handwritten Sentiments: The Gentleman’s Stationery Guide

There are a few things every gentleman should have on his desk. One is a good fountain pen, and the other is a set of stationery.

Why does a man need stationery when we have email and text messaging? Because sending an electronic message holds little value when expressing your condolences on the death of a family member or friend, your congratulations to someone dear or a simple note to the woman you’re courting. Stationery is noticed, and it shows the recipient that you took some time and care in sending your correspondence. It wasn’t a last minute text or email sent from the driveway or worse – the toilet.

Social letters are always more sincere when handwritten

Social letters are always more sincere when handwritten

A set of high-quality, custom stationery is not cheap. Most cost a few hundred dollars and rarely, in small quantities, you can find them for under a hundred. However, regardless of how much you spend, stationery remains special because it’s rarely used today.

For those who do receive it, even from someone who regularly uses it, they know that the meaning behind it is sincere. Even us men who keep a box of stationery still use email and texting as a daily communication. If we happen to pull out our stationery and a fountain pen, it’s because there is some weight behind what we plan to write.

Even handwritten sentiments on stationery exceed the experience one will have when reading something handwritten on a piece of looseleaf or a sheet torn from a pad. There is not sincerity behind a sticky note, but there is significant meaning when someone reads a handwritten note on beautifully textured paper engraved with the sender’s name or monogram.

High quality engraved off the rack stationery

High quality engraved off the rack stationery

Like a gentleman’s wardrobe, stationery sets one apart from the rest of the pack. If we look at stationery from a sartorial perspective, it is the difference between wearing a bespoke suit and wearing denim jeans with a ball cap. Stationery is the tailcoat at the most formal affairs.

Various Styles of Stationery

There are many types of stationery available and to limit them, we’ll forget the wedding invitations and event-specific cards. Instead, we’ll focus on stationery that has multiple uses and can be sent out for more than just one reason.

Handwritten note on Presidential stationery

Handwritten note on Presidential stationery

Letter Writing

Think of the standard letterhead used by companies, except instead of a logo, it simply has your name engraved at the top. Unfortunately, many men misconstrue this as simply being computer paper that they can print off at home. In fact, it is far more elegant than computer paper and is often made from cotton, linen or silk with an elegant texture that makes it delightful to touch. It is usually slightly thicker and can be folded once and slipped into a matching envelope. Traditionally, the social letterhead will be 6×8. However, many men opt to have their letterhead produced in a custom size such as the 7×10 Monarch sheets to differentiate it from the 8.5×11 paper used in desktop and office printers and the 6×8 sheets sold in bulk. Some will go even further, and custom cut the corners, however, the most classic approach is to opt for letterpress or die cast lettering which obviously does not come from your home computer.

Modern stationery with border and monogram

Modern stationery with border and monogram

Correspondence Cards

Typically measuring 4×6, it is slightly smaller than letterhead, social or monarch sheets and is the most common stationery used today. If you are on a tight budget and only plan to invest in one set of stationery, this is the style to choose. It can be used for everything from sympathy and congratulation cards to love letters and notes to colleagues. The paper is usually relatively thick with a lovely texture and generally features just your name at the top or your initials in the corner of the page. In recent years, a more modern approach is to introduce a colored border and some men, even opt to have an icon such as a bulldog, flower or bird at the top of their cards.

Calling Cards

Technically not part of the stationery set, the calling card is the far more traditional version of the business card. Used before telephones were invented, men would drop off a calling card with their information on it as a method of letting a friend or acquaintance know they had called on them. This card would typically be left on a small pedestal in the foyer, or handed to the household staff for presentation to the recipient. The card was slightly larger than a business card, and traditionally only listed the gentleman’s name and perhaps his club affiliation. An acronym was then handwritten on the corner of the card to identify its purpose and corners would be turned down to indicate further intent and response. While these traditions are unnecessary today, the calling card remains a rare and yet thoughtful addition to gifts, flowers and other personal deliveries made on your behalf. To learn more about calling cards, click here. Or click here to get the same exquisite calling card case I use.

contemporary stationery for a preppy gent

Contemporary stationery for a preppy gent

How to Buy Stationery

When you decide to buy a set of stationery you must determine three things:

  1. What is your budget?
  2. Do you want something off the rack or do you prefer bespoke?
  3. Will it be modern or will it be traditional?

1. What is your budget?

Your budget determines everything. Just like with clothing, stationery ranges from just a few dollars for off-the-rack correspondence cards from Walmart and Target to hundreds or even thousands of dollars for custom letterpress cards from historic printers in New York and London. Certainly, the biggest difference is in quality, but another prominent factor is the personalization that bespoke stationery can afford. It’s important first to determine a budget and then, decide what embellishments, paper quality and customization you want.

Low Budget ($10 – $50)

For low budgets, you’ll want to stick with something off-the-rack. This doesn’t mean that you can’t find higher quality paper; it just means you might have to concede with not having your name or initials on the paper, or having to print them at home.

There are many stores that sell off-the-rack stationery but the higher quality products will be at craft stores, stationery stores like Hallmark or specialty paper stores. You can also find custom stamps and sets that you can print off at home. Granted, the quality won’t be exceptional, but it’s still a far cry from sending a letter on looseleaf paper. Click here for a set of inexpensive stock stationery from Crane & Co.

For a tight budget consider high quality paper you can stamp yourself

For a tight budget consider high-quality paper you can stamp yourself

Medium Budget ($50 – $200)

You’ll have far more room to play with this budget. You could certainly purchase a nicer set of OTR stationery, or you could buy smaller quantities of custom stationery from companies like Smythson and Brooks Brothers which offers traditional letterpress correspondence cards on cotton paper with matching envelopes.

Your other option is to hire a local print shop and select everything from start to finish including your font, colors, paper, and envelopes. Most printers offer an extensive selection of paper quality and in small quantities; you might be able to find what you’re looking for. Of course, you can also use online printers such as Vistaprint or Moo.

High Budget ($200+)

For those with a large budget, you have the widest number of options. Of course, you may have to decide on quantity vs. quality if your budget isn’t unlimited. Having a high budget doesn’t mean you have to source the most elegant and rare bespoke stationery. You might really enjoy sending handwritten notes and decide to focus on buying larger quantities of stationery from a local or online printer. Or, you might decide it’s worth it to use a preeminent stationery engraver with a Royal Warrant. Of course, without an unlimited budget, your quantities will be lower. However, the quality will be unparalleled.

Off the rack stationery is less expensive than custom

Off the rack stationery is less expensive than custom

2. Off the Rack vs. Bespoke

Once you’ve determined a budget, you need to decide whether you want something completely customized or something partially personalized or just something from the store shelf.

This is where you may have to make some tough decisions based on budget. In the end, the only reason to go bespoke is if you require your name or initials, and you want it engraved on the very best quality paper. If you are okay with simply having high-quality paper and not having your name, you may wish to consider a blank correspondence card or one off the rack with a generic single initial. You can often find high-quality paper and even letterpress monogramming off the rack. You just run the risk that a hundred other people have the same stationery. You might also find it useful to consider the next factor:

A contemporary ink color can add a touch of sprezzatura to traditional stationery

A contemporary ink color can add a touch of sprezzatura to traditional stationery

3. Modern vs. Traditional

The most elegant and expensive stationery is usually quite traditional. However, when choosing bespoke, it’s your money, and you can do with it as you please. Some people opt to include a coat of arms, contact information, or even an icon or a colored border around the edge. Since stationery is fairly formal, it’s a good idea to try and pick more traditional embellishments rather than something that will lend it a more casual appearance.

One tip is to invest in two sets of stationery; a custom set that’s more expensive but traditional, and a more casual off-the-rack set that shows personality.

Stationery like this is fine if you are ten but not if youre grown up

Stationery like this is fine if you are ten but not if you’re grown up

Where to Buy Stationery

If I did a poll, I would venture to guess that most of my friends and family would assume stationery could be printed by any print shop. While technically that’s probably true, traditional and elegant stationary should abide by a core set of rules and most modern print shops don’t have the experience or even the equipment to properly print them.

If you are looking for some basic stationery or wish to stick within a budget, even correspondence cards printed from a DIY pack at home are far nicer than sending an email. One can buy generic stationery at most stationery stores like Hallmark and going to a local printer is even a step above or you rely on some engraving or letterpress specialists.

Engraved icon in gold

Engraved multicolored icon

High-Quality Printing Methods

Certainly digital printing is the most common for modern stationary, and it’s also less expensive. However, if you are considering bespoke stationery or very high-quality stock cards, here are three styles of printing we recommend:

High quality hand engravings are elegant and noticed

High-quality hand engravings are elegant and noticed

Engraving

The process of engraving dates back to Medieval Times and is done using the same technique by the very best printers in the world. With engraving, your first batch will be the most expensive as you’ll be paying for a custom copper plate. The plate is engraved with the information that will show on your stationery. High-quality ink is poured gently over the plate and wiped off so only the actual engraved section has ink remaining. The plate is then pressed into the paper which causes the paper to become engraved by raising the paper in the form of the design and transferring the ink to the engraving. It’s important to note that only the finest quality paper can be used as anything inferior will simply tear under the pressure of the plate. Also, every color needs to run through the press separately. So if you have a 6 color print, it will cost 6 times as much than a one color print, if you disregard the cost of the paper and the plate.

Gold and silver look particularly nice on engraved stationery and even one or two color prints can look stunning.

Modern letterpress stationery with a bow tie icon

Modern letterpress stationery with a bow tie icon

Letterpress

Quite literally the opposite of the engraving process, letterpress is the process of pressing the design into the paper resulting in an indentation rather than a raised surface. Because it doesn’t require a metal plate, the cost is less than engraving, though not by much. The process is certainly more trendy today because it is more attainable than engraving and the process is revered by artists for its appearance. Just like with engraving, every color needs a separate run, so keep that in mind when you create a design.

Thermography

If your budget is slightly lower, but you still don’t want to procure off-the-rack stationery or use a digital printer, thermography is a rather attractive option. The printer uses a resin that covers the ink. The resin is then baked onto the paper which results in a raised texture on the design. For those unfamiliar with engraving, it can often look quite similar and be misconstrued as the more expensive option.

Black ink should be reserved for the most formal correspondence such as sympathy cards following a death

Black ink should be reserved for the most formal correspondence such as sympathy cards following a death

Go Local

If you are looking for high-quality bespoke stationery, we recommend checking out your local craftsmen. Chances are you will find some great talent. If you can’t, here are some well-known brands, but bear in mind, you will pay top dollar for the same quality you could get from a local printer. If you do not need bespoke stationary, it is likely more economical to go with some of the brands mentioned below.

The Wren Press

Located in London and New York, The Wren Press is the holder of two Royal Warrants and produces bespoke hand-engraved stationery of the highest quality. They offer hand-painted edging and gilding for those seeking a more contemporary set and have some stockists around the world to fulfill your order. For bespoke stationery, service is available by appointment only and pricing is available upon request. Click here to visit their website.

Piccolo Press

A world renowned bespoke printer in London, Piccolo offers some of the finest print services available. Offering die stamping and engraving, letterpress, thermography and digital printing, Piccolo has one of the largest product lines available. For more information click here to visit their website.

Engraved monogram corresspondence cards

Engraved monogram corresspondence cards

Letterpress Stationery from Brooks Brothers

Letterpress Stationery from Brooks Brothers

Crane & Co.

Offering less expensive custom stationery as well as off-the-rack products, Crane & Co is the Hallmark of the bespoke stationery world with a slightly more elegant product. If your budget is more modest but you want something that’s still custom and classic, they might be the choice for you. Click here to buy this set of off-the-rack stationery.

Smythson

Sold in some stationery and craft stores as well as through their offices on Bond Street in London, Smythson is a printer and merchant that offers low budget off-the-rack stationery as well as more expensive personalized stationery with modern embellishments. Known for their game stationery with icons of animals as well as the colorful borders, you can still have a classic set designed at a reasonable price if embellishments aren’t your style. Visit their website by clicking here.

Conclusion

Every distinguished gentleman should have a set of stationery. Be it a $700 set of engraved cards from a bespoke printer or a $30 set from Hallmark’s website, having a formal stationery for handwritten sentiments is a must. Pair it with a fountain pen and those reading your letters will know they were the furthest thing from an afterthought. They will know just how much they mean to you.

What style of stationery do you use?

Summary
Article Name
The Stationery Guide
Description
The ultimate guide to stationery for the distinguished gentleman with recommendations, tips and more.
Author
40 replies
  1. Jonathan Johansson says:

    Thank you for this interesting article! It came very timely – I feel I must tell you an anecdote about this.

    I’ve wanted to start writing letters for several months, and last summer I bought some stationary (not particularly expensive, but enough to set the letters apart from the rest you receive) to use with my fountain pen. However, being 18 years old means that I have virtually no friend with this same interest, and as a result of this I didn’t send a single letter in six months. However, only two days ago, I gathered some courage, went to an internet site where “pen pals” put advertisements, and now I’ve sent my first letter. This article inspired even more to continue with this, as I see it, forgotten delight.

  2. J.R. Francis says:

    I have been writing with a fountain pen since I attended elementary school.
    Back when we practiced the art of Penmanship, which I think we now celebrate as National Penmanship Day.
    I like a pencil for doing number work, but The Fountain Pen has become an extension of my thought and note taking process. I write, study and still use the dictionary every day. Over the years I have actually been hired by one or two corporations partly because of my hand writing skill. My father told me more than a few times when I was young, that to find a person who could write, spell, speak, read aloud and comprehend all at the same level was in fact a major miracle.
    and part of the process of excellence. Dressing for the occasion also helps quite a bit too. Penmanship though, give the Fountain Pen it’s purpose Practice does make perfect Curly Q’s

    • Matt D says:

      “an extension of my thought and note taking process”

      Recently a co-worker explained part of her Police exam was to describe an event, using only cursive writing! Evidently, it reveals a great deal about the applicant’s ability to synthesize details, express coherent thoughts and present a convincing argument.

      Unlike email, applicants can’t simply backspace, spellcheck, delete etc. Sadly, cursive, penmanship and common courtesy have become, dead arts. But I try to remain upbeat. Just this past weekend at a mall in Portland, OR, The Slobs really stood out. Embarrassingly so!

      Take encouragement where you can FIND it! It’s the reason I value Sven’s perspective so dearly.

      • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

        In Germany, you have to take your law exams writing by hand. They take 5 hours and before you write you have to make an outline, otherwise the format will look terrible. At the end of the exam, one’s hand hurts and I wish they would allow you to take the computer because in real life all is done on the computer. I’d say about 25% of the students get tendinitis, and that’s over the top. Having to do a smaller task is good though and it shows that you can think something through.

  3. Joe says:

    Good timing. I have finally decided to look back into fountain pens and correspondence stationary. I just bought a reasonable Monteverde Impressa and have started experimenting. I’m having to re-learn cursive writing and – don’t laugh – had to double check a few letterforms on an educational web site. Oh well, I’m 58 and last wrote in cursive about 48 years ago. My penmanship looks pathetic, but I’ll practice. I have loose-leaf laid paper to work with for the moment, but want to look into nicer mid-budget sets before too long. Actually I like laid as the little rectangles let me know when my line starts going crooked. 😉 Cheating, I know.

  4. Blondbluey says:

    As a former stationer, would not consider Smythson “low budget” given their price per card, lined envelope, etc! This is a good overview, however. Other excellent, true U.S. manufacturer is Thornwillow Press which stamps AND makes their own papers.

  5. Forrest Howe says:

    Great article. I have just sent two thank you notes on my personal stationery (please note the correct spelling) written by fountain pen in topaz ink with a wax stamp on the back.

  6. Terry says:

    Congratulations and thank you for your valuable and timely thoughts on an important topic! I absolutely agree that a handwritten note is always a sign of personal respect and regards to the receiver. I also concur that the correspondence card is the single best investment for a writer wishing to send personal thoughts, whether for thanks, condolences, or any other topic. It is elegant, personal, and by nature of its size, succinct when the writer keeps within its space. It is suitable for any occasion, and eliminates the need to buy an off-the-rack card with a pre-printed “hope this says it” message. Over the years I have used local as well as commercial presses. A budget friendly printer with quality stationery for many occasions is American Stationery.
    You advocate fountain pens – who could disagree? – but I notice one of your illustrations includes a Uniball roller pen. Over the years rollerballs have improved considerably, and while they lack the flexibility of a fountain pen nib they are, I think, an economical and appropriate alternative. Gentlemen considering letter writing may want to test different brands and point sizes for comfort and expressiveness.
    It’s regrettable that penmanship is becoming a lost art, so bravo to you for the encouragement to use it!

  7. Prof Dr Carl Edwin Lindgren says:

    Perhaps it is time to start making bespoke crest and and arm rings and seals. I purchased my for London, Belgrade and Milan and Milan. At $2000 they well worth it as my arms from the Ministry of Justice in Spain and from London and Scotland are to some people the most important items including their wives, husbands, jobs or money. I have been at this for 40 years and serve as American coordinator for Spanish Arms. If anyone wishes help contact or training please contact the Handwritten Sentiments: The Gentleman’s Stationery Guide or me through the owner.

  8. Deepak Jhaveri says:

    A really good article. Have always been fond of hand writing letters or notes. I’ve recently bought a good quality fountain pen, the same brand my father used 50 years ago; Pelikan. They are fine writing instruments. I normally use hand made paper, but the idea of getting a personalised stationery sure sounds good. But, writing is dying as emails, instant messaging & texting have taken over the present world. Still like to keep this art of writing alive.

  9. Quentin says:

    J.A,
    A wonderful article. It’s quite timely as I’ve been wanting to find some nice stationery for my personal use.

    One thing that wasn’t touched upon was embossing and I was curious on your thoughts of using this technique on your stationery. While very similar to thermography, the process used is different to achieve a similar effect.

  10. Mark Burleigh-Thurston says:

    Disappointed that you used a roller-ball pen in the first photo, but then exalted the use of a fountain pen; I’ve always used Parker Pens myself, but this is being pedantic!
    I designed and printed my own stationary on my PC and simply bought high quality copy paper and envelopes, not as good as embossing or engraving, but more cost effective, and I included calling cards because I dislike this idea of ‘you call me and I’ll call you’ to save numbers on mobiles. Good grief, I am sounding like an old fart! Sorry.
    Love the blog.

  11. Gareth says:

    Thank you for an informative essay.
    I’m in favour of the calling card, stating who I am and where I can be reached.

    If I want to get to know someone first, I present my calling card. If the relationship can extend to business, I present my business card showing my title and degrees held.

    The calling card is civilized for it says who you are, only. Let common convention and civility determine how your personality and character are interpreted.

    – G

    • J.A. Shapira says:

      That’s precisely what I do. I carry the Fort Belvedere business card case which has two slots in it. In one, I keep my business cards and in the other, my social calling card. That way I always have cards on me. I’ve found having a case with two slots for separate cards makes a world of difference so I’m not fumbling to find the card I want.

      Glad you enjoyed the article,

      J.A. Shapira
      Editor | Gentleman’s Gazette

  12. Jean says:

    Where is the “dip pen”?

    I recently turned back to using the dip pen: 35 years of using keyboards for writing ruined my handwriting. Using the dip pen again forced me to improve my handwriting.

  13. J. Bennett says:

    There are many artisan letterpress shops who do excellent work and won’t break the bank. I had some business cards done by Dauphine Press (www.dauphinepress.com) and was quite pleased. Their website makes it look like they just do wedding invitations, but they will do whatever you want.

  14. Les Sutherland says:

    Thankyou for this article.
    Among calligraphers the finest combination for writing is still considered to be Vellum, a goose quill pen and Chinese stick ink!
    @Jean
    These days what you refer to as the dip pen is mostly associated with people practising Calligraphy as an art form. They are available in many craft shops, stationers and on-line. Although I no longer practise this form of writing I think I still have a large number of nibs around somewhere!

  15. wyoranchhand says:

    I don’t see any photo credits. Do you buy stock photos or do you get permission to use photos belonging to others?

  16. Larry P. Burton ll says:

    The subject of fine stationary, calling cards and fountain pens is in the top five of my life’s joys!
    I would suggest anyone starting out purchase Crane’s Blue Book of Stationary in the hard back version. This book will answer 90 plus percent of all the stationary related questions.
    The items I use are engraved on ecru; the font Sackers Roman. I purchase all of my products from The Crane Company. I have used their products for 50 years and have always been thoroughly pleased.
    Following, is a list of products I use for my correspondence: Monarch sheets, 7 ¼” X 10 ½” for business, correspondence sheets 6 ¼ “X 8 ½” and correspondence cards 4 ¼” X 6 ½”.The correspondence cards have a border and are printed in dark navy. The other two items are in black. They all have only my name at the top. The envelopes used for these items have my address only printed on the flap. I use social business cards, which are the same size as standard business cards, 3 ½” X 2”. The only information on the card is my name and phone number. My fountain pens of choice are Pelican.

  17. Mark Scott says:

    I am a calligrapher by profession and have enjoyed this blog.Living in Australia,the interest in handwriting skills is zero,a lamentable state of affairs which sadly won’t improve.Calligraphers use special hot pressed paper for formal work and vellum for ceremonial pieces but for everyday letter writing,I use paper from Amalfi in Italy.Deckle edged and like velvet to touch, it is heavenly to use with both an edged nib and a fountain pen.Try it……

  18. Mason Rudesheim says:

    I really enjoy writing letters with fountain pens, I normally write letters with Clairefontaine Triomphe paper (which unfortunately only comes in white) but the ink looks beautiful with lots of shading, or G.Lalo creme colored paper which is leyed paper so it is a little bit harder to write on with finer nibs.

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