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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How to Buy Stationery
When you decide to buy a set of stationery you must determine three things:
- What is your budget?
- Do you want something off the rack or do you prefer bespoke?
- 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?