Latest trends in fine stationery, custom invitations and announcements from the Stationers Guild

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Several hours ago, I received this interesting note from a recent Guild reader:


Dear Stationers Guild:

Crane cards are for stuffed shirts.

Looking for exuberant cards for holidays and your blog goes on and on about Crane stationers who make truly boring formal holiday cards for stuffed shirts.

Constance Kay Inc. is a lot of fun, but I also want alternatives and I am very tired of having to purchase Papyrus Cards in emergency situations such as I am working in some god forsaken place with only – horrors – Hallmark around.

Perhaps your blog isn’t a total loss and I will find clues as to get other fun things such as diffraction grating wrapping papers.



Firstly,  I appreciate any relevant feedback from a human being since most feedback comes from spammers in Eastern Europe.

Secondly, I agree that there is a tendency to think formal correspondence (referred to as “Crane cards”) is something for “stuffed suits.”  I don’t happen to share this opinion, but clearly written correspondence doesn’t seem to resonate with the vast majority of our socially mobile population.

Thirdly, I feel compelled to tell the kind reader that I wouldn’t hold out much hope about finding information about “diffraction grating wrapping papers” anytime soon on the Stationers Guild website. It is a subject that I take as seriously as “Romancing a Snow Shovel.”

But more to the point, I think I would like to spend the next few paragraphs to defend the importance of a handwritten note. “Defend” is probably not the right word, since I know of no one – stuffed shirt or not – who wouldn’t want to receive a handwritten note rather than a banal Tweet –  Tweety Bird included!

Now Crane stationery or a unique greeting card from Constance Kay may not be the reader’s thing, but quite frankly both are far superior to the rather pedestrian greeting cards and stationery you can find at retail establishments.

The issue is generally not the quality of the greeting card or stationery, but one’s willingness to make an effort to meaningfully “communicate” with another human being. To say that “formal correspondence card” is for “stuffed shirts,” is akin to saying that Twitter is for “illiterate teenagers.”  I suspect that either assumption is probably wrong.

Making an effort to exchange a handwritten note requires a level of personal commitment to a relationship that many people feel is not warranted in today’s digital world.  I, like others, feel strongly about the importance of the personal expression achieved in a handwritten note and plan to continue the time-honored tradition of exchanging an annual paper holiday card with distant friends.

If others feel the same, write on!

Happy Valentine’s Day (a lovely letterpress greeting card from Oblation)

Richard W. May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

I recently came across this delightful image of the first Christmas Tree displayed in Rockefeller Center in 1931. Mind you, this somewhat forlorn Christmas tree pales by comparison to the behemoth firs that grace Rockefeller Center today, but oddly it seems more relevant .

I vaguely recall “the Lighting” this year, but it seemed to have as much spiritual significance as a Super Bowl concert. I tuned in to NBC to see the shape of the tree rather than listen to Mariah Carey or Kelly Clarkson regurgitate their own spins on Christmas classics.

Indeed, the rather gritty tree ceremony in 1931 – at the peak of the Great Depression – seems more in keeping with the spirit of the celebration than today’s sound and light extravaganza.

Before you write me off as a luddite (I own a cell phone, but prefer to leave it at home), I do like the distraction of fast-food entertainment which keeps me and many others from reflection.     I don’t think Joseph and Mary – let alone Jesus – would have approved of this December’s celebration anymore than the laborers who toiled to raise that first Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.

As we enter 2014, I long to feel and touch “real paper” and celebrate great designs and printing.  I prefer to talk to the artisans that make these great papers  rather than attend online webinars or talk to people in fulfillment centers that have little notion of the craftsmanship that goes into making fine stationery.

Pedalling ever-faster on that great bicycle of progress is causing me to forget those nostalgic moments when this world seemed to make more sense.

Richard May

Friday, October 4th, 2013

Earlier this year, we had the great pleasure of re-establishing contact with Felix Doolittle, who is one of the best design artists in the stationery industry.  For several years, Therese Saint Clair carried his delightful stationery which simply makes you want to put away your cellphone and smell the roses once again.   Mr. Doolittle captures the details of everyday countryside life in a nostalgic and amusing way that inspires you to share his artistic designs with distant friends and family.

Now you can!

We were both trilled and honored to receive one of the first albums from Felix featuring delightful return address labels, correspondence seals and holiday motifs.    Words cannot describe the elegance and simplicity of these moving designs and it strikes me that they would make great gifts for the holidays and superb hostess gifts.  Gifts that are personalized are always more meaningful.

For those that are looking for something a bit more substantial, I would suggest some of Felix Doolittle’s superb stationery.  With talented artists like Mr. Doolittle continuing to share their inspiring creations, the world is certainly a better place.

While many of Mr. Doolittle’s superb designs are online, it is always best to shop for personalized stationery at a bricks-and-mortar store in your neighborhood.  If you happen to be near Greenwich, CT, do drop into see us and tell that that Felix inspired you to get off the beaten path and have an “encounter of the first-kind” with fine stationery.  We think you will be glad you made the effort.

We look forward to seeing you.

Sheila P. May
Therese Saint Clair

P.S.  For stationers interested in carrying Felix Doolittle, give him a ring and see if he has any spare albums so you can properly represent his work in your market.

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

I have always wondered about the origins of “Keep Calm and Carry On” but assumed it was something mouthed by Winston Churchill during one of his heroic speeches. The truth is now revealed:

Imagine a world when we no longer have bookstores to archive and uncover items of historical value. Imagine a world with no bricks-and-mortar stationery stores to promote the value of a hand-written note.

I can’t, but I do try to “keep calm and carry on.” Well, not very calmly. Actually, I subscribe to Dylan Thomas’ philosophy (poem on the death of his father) that we should “Rage against the dying of the light.”

“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I do plan to remain calm and carry on while the embers of the stationery industry still throw off light.   Will you?

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

Deborah Needleman in a recent The New York Times Style Magazine editorial comments that “Living in an age when most things are both digital and disposable creates an even more intense longing for physical objects that speak to you and will remain in your life.”

I quite agree with Deborah, the transitory nature of our digital universe seems to place an added value on “real” objects that trigger an emotional response each time they manifest themself in one’s life.

Thinking about the “value of things”, I was talking to a gentleman earlier today who had had some unsatisfying experiences buying personalized stationery online. He wisely decided to buy his personal stationery at a store so he could actually see and touch the finished product. He preferred this solution rather than “run out and buy a sympathy card or thank you note every time I need one.”

While I have always admired the spontaneity of buying greeting cards – and we have a lovely selection – this gentleman got me to thinking about the “value of things.” Sure, a greeting card is special, but how about a hand-written note on your own personalized stationery. Now that is truly unique!

More importantly, the cost of engraved or letterpress stationery runs about $2.50 to $3.50 per card and envelope – far less expensive than a mid-grade greeting card priced at around $4.95 a card!

Personalized stationery is versatile, it works well for wishing a couple well on their anniversary or for that sad task of sending a condolence note.

Better yet, you are cutting down on carbon emissions by buying your stationery in bulk rather than running down to CVS or the car wash to pick up a greeting card each time you need one.

As for those that buy into the hype of “saving a tree,” most fine stationery is printed on 100% cotton paper – a renewable crop. How’s that for going green?

In short, there are many good reasons to buy personalized stationery rather than greeting cards. Maybe, it’s just seeing the “value of things” in a somewhat different context.

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

I rarely let people talk for themselves, since I have succumbed to that dreadful habit of talking before listening.  I planned to do so once again when reintroducing Jamie Ostrow to stationers and consumers who hunger for contemporary design, but I was left speechless at the beauty of her new albums (Bar & Bat Mitzvah, Social Stationery and two Wedding albums).   Wow!! – is the only word that describes these stunning designs.   I leave it Jamie to explain herself:

Most of you have landed on this webpage because you are familiar with Jamie Ostrow from having stationery or invitations or holiday cards designed and printed by us Perhaps you visited our store on Madison Avenue in New York City which we had for 15 years or today you shop in a store that carries our products, but for those of you who are unfamiliar with our work please indulge me and allow me to tell you who we are, what we do and what we think.

I decided to go into this business when I realized that what the personalized stationery and invitation world was missing was good contemporary design. Everything was dated or boring (or both!) I knew that I could create colorful exciting designs that would be simple, sophisticated and elegant but fit in, in today’s modern world.

For the past 30 years I have remained true to this goal. Our designs continue to be fresh without being contrived or ever over done. Our designs are as timely as they are classic, incorporating the “in” colors and styles of the seasons with designs that are ageless.

This is not the site for flowers and flourishes – All our products are crisp and clean – relying on the use of typography as the focus of the design. This, along with our use of color and texture in both paper and ink are what make Jamie Ostrow stationery and invitations stand out from the rest.

No one has ever received a Jamie Ostrow invitation that popped – up, dropped – out or otherwise made you think “how gauche”. Nothing over-the-top – just understated, pleasing to the eye and always in good taste.

I would have included a few images to accompany this article, but I hardly know where to start.  I suggest you take a look at Jamie’s website and see for yourself why that edgy New York contemporary design is so refreshing and unique.   From my perspective, it’s the difference between “grown-up” stationery and wallpaper.

In a world where most designers are chasing the Walmart model of creative obsolesce, it is reassuring to see a few true designers and craftspeople that refuse to compromise on the integrity of their vision and art.  Welcome back Jamie!

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

When informed of his rumored death, Mark Twain stated that “reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”    Perhaps, the death knell for the stationery industry has not yet sounded.  Yesterday morning  I reported that William Arthur would be terminating its affiliate program on May 25th.  Shortly after the article was published, I received a phone call from a representative of Crane indicating that the announcement was “poorly communicated” and that Crane would migrate William Arthur to Crane’s Pepperjam affiliate program.  Commission structures would remain intact.

When I pressed for more details (i.e. “will William Arthur maintain their own ecommerce website?”), I was told that Crane’s IT people were working on it.  Frankly, that is not particularly reassuring, but I guess we can hope that Crane’s “rocket scientists” will let the Crane brand have a decent burial rather disappear in the paperless ether.

One of Crane’s fundamental problems has been its inability to manage its Online presence.  For years, we have witnessed Crane manage its online business as something distinct (dare I call it a profit center?) from its stationery business.    The silly idea that there is an “online” consumer and a “bricks-and-mortar” consumer is about as stupid as saying that consumers can be segregated by those who use fixed phone lines and those who use cell phones.    Just look at the phone or cable company:  The services are simply bundled!

Crane is mistakenly focused on tinkering with distribution channels rather than building a loyal base of savvy consumers who understand the difference between low resolution digital images found on the internet  and fine engraved stationery.  Just take a look at the jewelry industry:  Sure, you can buy a knock-off Timex (or Rolex) for $20 from one of the many street vendors in Times Square, but many buyers will think nothing of shelling out $25,000 or more for a Patek Philippe watch.  Why?  They want quality.  Both brands tell time, but only one makes a personal statement.

As I have said before, I don’t have a clue as to what is going on in Crane, but I suspect that the people who work there don’t either.   A company that has been in the “communications” business for over 200 years should certainly have a better message.  It’s dealers and Crane’s legion of loyal buyers of their brand certainly hope so.

Let’s keep the “personal” in personalized stationery.

Richard W. May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

With snow hopefully now in our rear-view mirrors, Crane has just introduced some exciting new stationery designs for Spring 2013.

As long as you are cleaning out your basement, why not upgrade your stationery with a fresh new Spring design from Crane & Co. For those who are more classically inclined, Crane still has some great foldover notes, cards and sheets. Get your beautiful engraved stationery today and help preserve civilized correspondence.

To see these exciting new Crane designs, please contact a stationer in your neighborhood – the best way – or visit the Crane store online.

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

In June of 2009,  I wrote an article about Paperless Post which appeared to dazzle some impressionable writer for the Style section of the New York Times.   Other than a technical novelty, there was little to admire about Paperless Post which provided an email service to simulate receiving an invitation.

I finalized my review of Paperless Post with the following quote:  ”In summary, if simulated email images masquerading as invitations is your cup of tea then by all means imbibe.  If texture, relevancy, tradition and tangible works of art continue to entrall you then don’t settle for pixalated pop art.”

After receiving a couple of invitations from clients of Paperless Post (“PP”) that managed to get through my server’s Spam filter, my opinion has not changed.  I suspect that many of PP’s clients share my opinion because Paperless Post has recently announced an “early peek”  into the “future of printed stationery.”

Pardon me for laughing, but as John McEnroe would often say “You can’t be serious!” Claiming that “We’re marrying the best of our online product with the latest printing technology to bring you high-quality stationery starting at $1.25 per piece including a hand-assembled envelope . . . PAPER by Paperless Post presents a hybrid solution for people who live both on- and offline.”

While I try to be tolerant of the hyperbole in self-promotion, this silly assertion by Paperless Post suggests that they have truly gone Postal.  From my perspective, it is a simple recognition by an increasing number of consumers that “digital communication” is simply no match for the intimacy of personal correspondence.

If Paperless Post clients would like to see what “real” stationery looks like, drop into your neighborhood stationery store.  The Internet is a great vehicle for self-promotion, but the quality of the end-product is often suspect.  For those of you who feel that PP will recreate their digital magic on paper, I offer these words from the Man in Black (The Princess Bride), “Get use to disappointment.”

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

I recently came across this lovely quote which pretty much explains how I look upon change.   The quote comes from  an article published in Atlantic Cities by Sarah Goodyear entitled:  Of Storefronts, Soulless Banks and the Slow Death of Nora Ephron’s Upper West Side:

People are always saying that change is a good thing. But all they’re really saying is that something you didn’t want to happen at all… has happened. My store is closing this week. I own a store, did I ever tell you that? It’s a lovely store, and in a week it’ll be something really depressing, like a Baby Gap. Soon, it’ll be just a memory. In fact, someone, some foolish person, will probably think it’s a tribute to this city, the way it keeps changing on you, the way you can never count on it, or something. I know because that’s the sort of thing I’m always saying. But the truth is… I’m heartbroken.

That’s from the 1998 Nora Ephron romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail, in which the owner of a sweet children’s bookshop on the Upper West Side of New York is forced out of business by a juggernaut chain bookstore, a thinly veiled version of Barnes & Noble.Sadly, Nora Ephron passed away last week.

Ms. Goodyear goes on to note that:

The once hectic and jumbled shopping landscape has been smoothed and polished and made increasingly bland. A walk down Broadway (NYC) used to be all jangle and buzz, an urban improvisation of sound and action. Now it’s more like a prerecorded loop that repeats block after block, the dull hum of air conditioning and fluorescent light.

She’s right, but I suspect that most towns – both large and small – have witnessed similar change.  Are we any better off as a society?  I don’t know, but I’d much rather walk into a used book store, organic tea stall, a stationery store, outdoor market or most any store with a silly name on it than a bank with the personality of an ATM.  In fact, I’d much prefer someone to be rude rather than ignore me.  Sadly, that is no longer possible in PC America unless you are dealing with a NYC Taxi cab driver who is fresh off the boat.

Perhaps, it is just a disturbing sign that I am growing old.  As one of my dear friends from Italy explained, “Kids today listen to us (i.e.the old folks) as a matter of courtesy – and possibly respect if you are European – but they really could care less what we have to say.   It used to bother me, but I assume the young folks will eventually sort it out for themselves.  In the meantime, I plan to spoil the grandchildren.”

There really is no punch line to this story other than to reprint Ms. Goodyear’s accurate observations on change in the upper West Side.    I think most of us realize that something of value has been lost in our towns and our society.  I have no idea if that missing link is the “mom and pop” store, but I am convinced that more banks and Starbucks aren’t the way forward to a more connected and vibrant society.

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

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