Paper, Ink and Sir Isaac Newton

by Chikashi

It has been said that one’s stationery says something about oneself.  I do not know whether or to what extent this is true, but I do know that it is important to me.

My first employer was founded in 1837 as a stationer.  Throughout its illustrious history, the Company have evolved in many respects, for example, the core products that they design and make, as well as their ownership structure now that family members are long gone both in terms of ownership and management.    However, given the heritage of the business, the quality of company stationery was a very important part of the character and culture of the Company.  Headed paper, business cards and invitations were all engraved on highest quality stock using ink of a beautiful, proprietary colour.  However, like most things in life, it appears to have changed recently.  This time for the worse.

At a meeting earlier this month, I bumped into a former colleague who is still with the Company.  We planned to meet up for dinner that night, so he took out his business card, scribbled his mobile number and gave it to me.  The first thing I notice is that whilst the typeface has remained the same, the new layout is less appealing than it was previously:  a thoughtless layout that requires no effort.  The next thing I notice is that it is now printed using thermography, in all its naff, glossy glory.  I was shocked.

People fall into either of two groups, those who think thermography is nice and those who think that it is unforgivably and inherently naff.  I am of the latter.  I know that the two views are irreconcilable.  Neither group can understand or appreciate the other’s view on the matter.

The Company used to manufacture its own paper stock.  The dies were hand-cut by in-house master engravers.  The die-stamping was a sublime art practised with pride by artisans on staff.  Given the evolution of the business as well as the declining demand for engraved stationery, the entire process was eventually outsourced to specialist companies.  Crane & Co. became the supplier of paper stock.  Excelsior, who were subsequently acquired by Crane, became the engravers and die-stampers.

The market also evolved, with most of the new buyers not being familiar with the art of engraved stationery.  It was a unique art to be able to die-stamp the stock with as little bruising, or force-mark, as possible.  Obvious bruising on the reverse of the paper was a sign of the most incompetent amateur.  However, the new buyers actually made explicit demands to have obvious bruising so that even the family pet may see that they were using engraved stationery.  It was inevitable that the art would expire if the majority of the market preferred inferior work.

However, leaving engraved stationery for thermographed stationery is a bridge too far.  If cost were the driver, then I would have hoped that they consider offset lithography or plain inkjet printing rather than thermography.  Because I am no longer associated with the Company, I ought not care what they do with their stationery.  But, yes, it bothers me enough to rant.

As if to counter my shock and disappointment earlier in the month, we just received from my sister and her husband a card announcing the birth of their daughter.  Engraved, on good quality card stock.

How Newtonian.